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Feds to end protected status for Nicaraguan immigrants

María Ulloa Funes, an immigrant from Honduras who

María Ulloa Funes, an immigrant from Honduras who lives in Hempstead and has temporary protected status. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

The Homeland Security Secretary on Monday issued a split decision on whether immigrants under temporary protected status granted to people from countries in turmoil will continue to be shielded from deportation — scheduling an end to Nicaraguans’ protection, while giving Hondurans a reprieve.

Senior administration officials said during a press briefing with reporters on Monday night that Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke will terminate TPS for Nicaraguans, granting them a one-year delay to make arrangements to leave the country by Jan. 5, 2019. But Duke “has not made a determination with regards to the country conditions in Honduras,” the officials said, and their status will be extended until July 5, pending evaluation of “the conditions on the ground” in Honduras.

Temporary protected status, or TPS, is a designation granted to immigrants from countries thrown into chaos by war, natural disasters or other crises, to protect them from deportation.

In the cases of both Honduras and Nicaragua, the designation came after those countries were assailed by Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Their status was due to expire Jan. 5.

Previous administrations had extended the protection for 18 months at a time, but immigration authorities under President Donald Trump signaled the designation would be reconsidered. In July, the Homeland Security Secretary gave Haitians only a 6-month extension.

“The administration is examining earnestly and thoughtfully the conditions on the ground and making an assessment on whether those conditions meet the statutory requirements” for their immigrants to be protected, the administration official said.

At the end of 2016 there were 439,625 immigrants with TPS, according to national figures issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Approximately 5,300 were from Nicaragua and about 86,000 were from Honduras, according to administration officials. About 13,000 Hondurans and more than 1,000 Nicaraguans live on Long Island, according to census estimates.

María Ulloa Funes, 53, a Honduran immigrant in Hempstead since 1998, said losing the protection would be disastrous for her and her husband.

“We have been happy being here legally,” said Ulloa Funes, a Hempstead resident who has six children, two of them U.S. citizens. “It’s not that we are becoming wealthy here, but at least we can put food on the table three times a day.”

Haitians, who got TPS after a 2010 earthquake devastated their country, will be next in seeing their status reviewed before a Jan. 22 expiration. Salvadorans, who are Long Island’s largest immigrant group, make up the bulk of TPS holders and will see their status expire on March 9.

Placing those immigrants “at risk of deportation not only hurts those people and their families,” said Denis Johnston, vice president of the SEIU 32BJ labor union in New York, “it also hurts the communities where most have lived for years, even decades, working, paying taxes, buying homes and businesses and raising families.”

Administration officials said they encourage Congress to find a solution that allows for “a more permanent status” for those immigrants.

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