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Protected status is extended for some immigrants

Activists with the group Make the Road New

Activists with the group Make the Road New York rallied outside Rep. Peter King's office in Massapequa Park on Nov. 21, 2017, calling for extension of Temporary Protected Status and passage of a DREAM Act. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan who were facing the expiration of their temporary statuses this year can breathe easy — at least until Jan. 2, 2020.

That is the new expiration date for the status that allows them to stay legally in the United States, though the respite is less than ideal for many who fear an eventual forced return to their birth countries.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced Friday in a Federal Register notice that it will extend Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, for immigrants from those nations to comply with an “intervening court order.” The order came in one of several pending legal challenges to the program's termination under decisions announced since President Donald Trump took office.

The extension gives several additional months from a September expiration for Salvadoran TPS holders such as Minda Hernández, 49, a Huntington Station resident, who is employed as a cleaner at a local mall.

“It’s very little, because what we want is something permanent,” said Hernández, who has lived in the United States for 21 years and has a 17-year-old son born here. “We live with that stress because we never know when our status will be taken from us.”

The TPS extension is likely to affect tens of thousands of immigrants from those nations granted refuge in the United States under the designation. The protected status is offered to people from selected countries ravaged by disaster, war, famine and other extraordinary circumstances.

Critics of TPS have argued that the status was extended beyond its intended purpose of humanitarian relief, making it a de facto permanent status.

The Trump administration, in reviewing the designations, concluded that circumstances in those four countries had improved and TPS extensions no longer were warranted. A federal judge, in a challenge filed in California, ordered in October that the protection be extended while the case is heard.

The agency also committed to further extend the status if the case has not been resolved by April and to allow immigrants a transition period if they lose the court battle.

The automatic extension means those TPS holders in good standing can stay put and don’t need to reapply for extensions at this time, said Steven Forester, immigration policy coordinator with the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, a Boston nonprofit.

“This is only a temporary extension, but people need to know about it” so they can plan accordingly, said Forester, whose group is involved in a legal challenge of Haitians’ TPS termination in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn. “The government is appealing and they will do all they can” to overturn the order, “but they have to respect a judge’s decision.”

Honduran and Nepali immigrants, who also expect to see their protected status expire in June and January, respectively, are not included in this decision because they were not part of the lawsuit in which the injunction was issued. A separate legal challenge is pending for immigrants from those countries.

Many Salvadorans and Haitians on Long Island are protected by TPS and had joined protests calling for the administration to extend the status and for Congress to make their legal residence permanent.

“If it expires, it’s going to hurt many people in the community, many who are in college or who are working here, people of all ages,” said Maryse Emmanuel-Garcy, executive director of Haitian American Family of Long Island, an advocacy group based in Freeport. “It’s very anxiety-provoking.”

Elise Damas, of the Central American Refugee Center, an advocacy group in Hempstead, said she was “pleased” that the decision buys time, but the fight is for the long haul.

“It is crucial,” Damas said, “that we continue to advocate for a permanent status for the thousands of TPS holders who have spent decades making their lives in the United States, raising U.S. citizen children and contributing to the American economy.”

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