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Immigrants on protected status worry as federal deadlines near

Orlando García, 35, of Bay Shore, a Salvadoran

Orlando García, 35, of Bay Shore, a Salvadoran immigrant, owns Corona Taxi company and employs 11 drivers. He says having Temporary Protected Status enabled him to work here legally and build his business. Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

Salvadoran immigrant Orlando García says being exempt from deportation under the federal designation of temporary protected status helped him improve his life, going from a low-paying factory job to getting a driver’s license and making better money driving a taxi.

Then he bought his own taxicab — and another, and another and another.

Today, he owns a taxi company and employs 11 drivers using seven livery vehicles in shifts around Brentwood, Central Islip and Bay Shore.

But that forward momentum could be stopped short as TPS (temporary protected status) comes due for extension and could expire. It is not known if the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under President Donald Trump will extend the protection.

“The biggest fear would be for this to lead to deportation,” said García, 35, a Bay Shore resident who has three children born on Long Island. “My life has seen a complete turnaround” with TPS, he said in Spanish, “because without that document I would be at the same factory or in some other industry that doesn’t open any doors.”

TPS is a form of provisional relief granted to immigrants from countries that either are going through armed conflict, recovering from natural disasters or destabilized by other crises.

Those given TPS can stay and work legally in the United States until conditions in their countries improve and the U.S. government discontinues the protected status. Expiration dates vary by country.

Nationally, the status of more than 86,000 Hondurans and more than 5,000 Nicaraguans is set to expire Jan. 5. More than 58,000 Haitians have the status until Jan. 22, and 263,000-plus Salvadorans are bracing for a March 9 expiration.

But in each case, significant dates come earlier.

The determination of whether protected status will continue past an expiration is made at least 60 days earlier when the Homeland Security secretary decides “whether the statutory conditions for the designation continue to be met,” said a spokeswoman with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the DHS branch administering the program.

The advance determination means a decision is coming on or about Monday for Hondurans and Nicaraguans with TPS. For Haitians, that decision date will be around Nov. 23, and for Salvadorans, around Jan. 8.

Salvadorans comprise the largest immigrant group on Long Island, and Haitians and Hondurans have a significant presence in Nassau and Suffolk counties as well. García, who came to the United States illegally from El Salvador in 1997, qualified in 2001 after a series of earthquakes struck his homeland.

TPS holders usually have had their statuses renewed every 18 months. The indication so far is that the Trump administration will not follow suit: In July, Haitians received only a six-month extension. John Kelly, then-DHS secretary and now Trump’s chief of staff, urged them “to attain travel documents and make other necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure.”

The department, in a statement, said it is in the process of reviewing all of those designations.

“Each designation and the facts surrounding it are different. We cannot speculate on what the Secretary will decide in the future regarding whether to extend TPS designations or, if so, for how long,” the statement said.

Immigrant advocates have been pushing back against the uncertainty, saying those with protected status have been working and paying taxes and have been vetted.

“They are well established . . . They almost always have children who were born in the United States. Many are homeowners; some own small businesses,” said Patrick Young of the Central American Refugee Center, an advocacy group in Hempstead and Brentwood. “It’s part of a community where I am sure most of their neighbors and associates think of them as permanent residents or citizens because they have been here legally so long, and yet they have been in this precarious position.”

Groups such as Make the Road New York, an immigrant advocacy nonprofit in Brentwood, have been lobbying for them to be granted legal permanent residency, saying immigrants’ loss of TPS would hurt Long Island if they are driven underground.

A recent analysis by Suffolk County estimated that it stands to lose up to $373 million in estimated annual spending if its TPS holders were to leave. That echoed a national analysis by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank in Washington, D.C., which puts the annual GDP loss to New York at $1.5 billion if Salvadorans, Haitians and Hondurans on TPS leave.

Program critics said the protected status was intended to be temporary.

Those immigrants and their families use services in communities where they live, said Steven Camarota, research director at the Center for Immigration Studies, a group in Washington, D.C., that seeks strict immigration enforcement.

“It’s true they pay taxes, there is no question, and it’s also true that more people mean a bigger economy,” Camarota said. But low-skilled workers like them, he added, pose “an enormous strain on the health care system and an enormous strain on the schools, and there’s no way that these individuals pay enough in taxes because of their economic profile.”

As María Ulloa Funes sees it, she has contributed to the economy with her work since she came from Honduras in 1998.

She qualified for TPS after her country was battered by Hurricane Mitch and she has supported six children, working as a cook at McDonald’s.

Two of her children were born here. An older son was killed in Honduras, where she said crime is rampant.

“Our dream is to be given legal residence. In other words, we want our papers so we can work, not to hurt anyone,” said Ulloa Funes, 53, of Hempstead.

She said she has been getting on her knees every morning and including in her prayers the wish that she and her family never have to leave the United States.

TPS deadlines by country

Holders of Temporary Protected Status of various nationalities face expiration dates, meaning their countries’ designation will be scrutinized anew by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

In each case, the department completes a review and issues a determination at least 60 days before an expiration date set by the government.

Here are countries whose nationals were granted TPS, the number of people with the status, the reason and start year for the designation, and the expiration date. Countries are listed in chronological order of TPS expiration.

  • Honduras: 86,163 people; Hurricane Mitch, 1998; expires Jan. 5.
  • Nicaragua: 5,349 people; Hurricane Mitch, 1998; expires Jan. 5.
  • Haiti: 58,706 people; earthquake, 2010; expires Jan. 22.
  • El Salvador: 263,282 people; earthquakes, 2001; expires March 9.
  • Syria: 6,177 people; armed conflict since 2012; expires March 31.
  • Nepal: 12,967 people; earthquake, 2015; expires June 24.
  • Yemen: 819 people; armed conflict since 2015; expires Sept. 3.
  • Somalia: 497 people; armed conflict since 1991; expires Sept. 17.
  • Sudan: 1,039 people; armed conflict since 1997; expires Nov. 2, 2018.*
  • South Sudan: 49 people; armed conflict since 2011; expires May 2, 2019.

Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security.

*The expiration date for Sudan is an effective date of termination of the TPS designation for nationals of that country. TPS was terminated for Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in May 2017.

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