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More Than 300,000 People From Disaster-Struck Countries Will Soon Lose Temporary Protection In The U.S.

How long can a temporary residency exist before it becomes permanent? Is it safe to send people back to a country where conditions are so violent that others are fleeing their homes and seeking refuge in the U.S.? These are the questions that presidential administrations have had to wrestle with when deciding the fate of hundreds of thousands of immigrants. The Trump administration has been clear on its stance: Temporary protections won’t go on forever.

The Trump administration announced last week that Temporary Protected Status would soon end for Hondurans — the sixth group the president has removed from the program since taking office. TPS provides temporary relief to people from countries experiencing civil unrest or natural disaster.

Since the program was created in 1990, it has offered temporary residency in the U.S. to people from nearly two dozen countries where natural or manmade disasters made it precarious for residents to return home. Haitians were added to the list after a massive earthquake hit their country in 2010. The Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014 led Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia to be included. And Honduras has been on the list since 1999, after Hurricane Mitch’s devastating pass through the country the previous year. The country’s tenure on the protected-status list is among the longest in the program’s history, and 57,000 Hondurans would be expected to re-enroll if the status were allowed to continue.

The Trump administration has set ending dates for the protected status of Sudan, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti and Nepal, affecting approximately 311,000 people. That means they will soon need to figure out how to gain a different kind of immigration status in the U.S. or begin making plans to move. The program officially comes to an end for Hondurans on Jan. 5, 2020.

Nearly a fifth of people with protected status are Hondurans

Estimated number of people expected to re-register for Temporary Protected Status if the program is renewed, by country of origin

People with Temporary protected status
Country Count Share of total
El Salvador 195,000 61.4%
Honduras 57,000 17.9
Haiti 46,000 14.5
Nepal 8,950 2.8
Syria 5,800 1.8
Nicaragua 2,550 0.8
Sudan 1,040 0.3
Yemen 1,000 0.3
Somalia 250 0.1
South Sudan 70 0.0

Some individuals who currently have TPS will adjust to another immigration status, leave the country or die before the current period expires. These estimates, from a report published in January 2018, reflect those who are expected to stay in the program if it is renewed for their home country.

Source: Congressional Research Service

Supporters of the changes point out that “temporary” is written right into the program’s name, arguing that it shouldn’t have continued so long for many of the countries involved. But critics note that after decades in the U.S., TPS holders are parents to hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens, and nearly a third of TPS holders are homeowners. Critics of the move also point out that just because the original disaster has ended, others are still ongoing. Honduras’s murder rate, though declining, is still one of the highest on the planet, making the country a dangerous place to return to. And nearly a quarter of Hondurans in the program are believed to have arrived before they were 16 years old, meaning they may not have much of a home there at all.

Only a small number of immigrants from the 10 countries currently eligible for TPS, and in the U.S. overall, will be affected by the change. But for those who are, it can mean returning to a country they barely know. Or becoming part of another group the Trump administration has frequently criticized: undocumented immigrants.

Anna Maria Barry-Jester is a senior reporter at Kaiser Health News and California Healthline, and formerly a reporter for FiveThirtyEight.