Activists outside the Massapequa Park office of Rep. Peter King...

Activists outside the Massapequa Park office of Rep. Peter King in November demand an extension of Temporary Protected Status for immigrants. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Hondurans approaching the end of temporary legal status to live in the United States await a Trump administration decision on whether they can stay after similar protections were rescinded for Haitian, Salvadoran and Nepali immigrants.

The fate of the 86,163 Hondurans living in the U.S. under Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, could be known within days because the Department of Homeland Security must decide to end or extend their designation 60 days before it expires on July 5.

It’s not clear how many recipients live on Long Island, but 8,916 Hondurans with TPS live in New York State, according to federal government statistics.

“Everything is at stake for them,” said Elise Damas, immigration legal services director at the Central American Refugee Center, an advocacy group in Hempstead. “For some, even their lives are at stake. Going back to a country like Honduras that is so plagued by criminal activity and violence . . . carries the great risk of being targeted for perceived wealth.”

More than 600 interfaith leaders signed a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Monday, pleading for the agency to allow Hondurans with TPS to stay in the United States.

TPS supporters from Catholic, Presbyterian, Lutheran and Mennonite denominations, including from organizations on Long Island, signed the letter issued by the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, asking for an 18-month extension of the designation for Hondurans.

“We believe it is unconscionable to send back . . . TPS holders from Honduras — who are our neighbors, our congregants, our pastors, and faith and community leaders — given the conditions,” said the letter. “Should they be returned to Honduras, they would be at extreme risk of hunger, thirst and homelessness . . . Without question, families would be torn apart as Honduran TPS parents are faced with the impossible decision to be separated from U.S. citizen children, or bring them into harm’s way.”

President Donald Trump has curtailed TPS within the last year, with immigrants from various countries given one final extension: Nicaraguans can stay until January 2019; Haitians have until July 2019 and Salvadorans keep protected status until September 2019. Nepalese immigrants found out last week that they can renew one last time until June 2019.

TPS is granted under the president’s authority as a form of provisional relief to immigrants from countries in turmoil due to natural disasters, armed conflict and other extraordinary conditions. Hondurans were first granted the status after Hurricane Mitch struck in 1998, leaving death and devastation in Central America.

“The statute requires that the [Homeland Security] Secretary review the conditions in the foreign state and make a determination whether the statutory conditions for the designation continue to be met at least 60 days prior to the expiration date,” said Katie Tichacek Kaplan, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which administers TPS.

Critics of the program have long said the “temporary” aspect of the designation has been ignored, keeping immigrants from struggling nations here indefinitely instead of returning them once their countries are stable.

“If they are still struggling 20 years later, they’ll still be struggling 40 years later, they’ll still be struggling 100 years later, and that is not what TPS is about,” said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington-based group backing stricter immigration controls. “If a country is just perpetually dysfunctional, that certainly isn’t something that should be covered by TPS or any other immigration program.”

The issue is weighing on the minds of many Hondurans, as TPS recipients have grown accustomed to life in the U.S. since obtaining the status in 1999.

“That worry is there in the back of everybody’s mind and everyone is waiting and praying to God that people would not lose their temporary work permits,” said Sergio Alberto Pérez, president of Líderes Hondureños Unidos en New Jersey, a nonprofit in Newark that organizes events and fundraisers in the metropolitan region for Honduran causes.

“There are many people,” Pérez said, “who have been able to rebuild their lives and accomplish many things” because TPS allows them to live and work here.

  • A total of 86,163 Hondurans, including 8,916 in New York State, live in the U.S. under Temporary Protected Status.
  • The Trump Administration must decide whether to extend or end their protected status 60 days before the July 5 deadline.
  • Hondurans were granted protected status in 1998 after Hurricane Mitch devastated the Central American country.
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