Wednesday, January 18, 2006

300,000 to lose special immigration status

Upwards of 300,000 immigrants now living and working legally in the US under “Temporary Protection Status” may soon see their status revoked and face deportation. The Department of Homeland Security has recommended that the special immigration program that has allowed some 300,000 undocumented Salvadoran, Honduran and Nicaraguan migrants to remain in this country not be continued.

According to DHS numbers, more than 220,000 Salvadorans, 70,000 Hondurans and 3,600 Nicaraguans across the nation would be effected by the rules change and could be forced to leave or go underground if special status is removed.

(more below the fold)

…the final decision on the Temporary Protected Status for the three nations, which would force those migrants to return home or remain here illegally and risk deportation, is still under intense debate within the administration, the officials add.

TPS, which bars the deportation of illegal migrants from those countries, was approved for Nicaragua and Honduras after Hurricane Mitch struck them in 1998, and for El Salvador after earthquakes there in 2001 killed more than 1,000 people and destroyed more than 220,000 homes.

TPS was intended to allow illegal migrants from these countries to stay in the United States temporarily and thereby soften the blow of the natural disasters. But today these poor countries rely heavily on remittances sent by their citizens working in the United States.

In the past, TPS renewals -- usually for 18-month periods -- have been almost routine for the Central Americans.

Miami Herald

Coming on the heels of the controversial bill, HR4437, sponsored by Congressional Republicans to toughen border controls and eliminate many legal protections for immigrants, the move by the Administration is seen as further evidence of the shifting climate in Washington. With the mid-term elections drawing near, an ever increasing number of Republican have begun to jump on the anti-immigrants bandwagon in hopes to bolster waning popularity in their home districts caused by controversy and sandal within the national party.

Some government officials have voiced concern over the “public relations nightmare” that the deportation of hundreds of thousand Central Americans would cause, and are looking to formulate an alternative “exit strategy” for the program.

The revocation of the status has also made waves in diplomatic circles, particularly in regards to El Salvador, the country with the greatest number of immigrants effected.

Salvadoran President Tony Saca has been calling President Bush and other top officials in an effort to win another extension of TPS, officials said.


The case of El Salvador is emblematic because it is the biggest beneficiary of TPS and a loyal U.S. ally. It is the only Latin American nation that continues to contribute troops in Iraq. Not getting TPS renewed would be a major blow for Saca, who is facing legislative elections in March. Almost two million Salvadorans living in the U.S. send almost $2.5 billion back home in remittances, a lifeline for the country's economy, according to the Inter American Development Bank.

On Friday, Saca talked with Bush about trade and immigration issues, but apparently did not get a firm commitment on TPS. Bush ''listened carefully and reaffirmed our continued focus on an approach that combines reasonable border enforcement with a temporary worker program,'' said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

The situation with El Salvador is of particular concern for those in the foreign policy wing of the government given the increasingly anti-Bush bent of many of the newly elected regimes in Latin America. Any possibility that an anti-US backlash could take place amongst the Salvadoran electorate would be viewed as highly problematic.

A formal announcement on TPS must be made 60 days before its expiration -- in July for Nicaragua and Honduras and in September for El Salvador -- although a decision could come from the Bush administration as early as the spring.

The Republicans will be forced to walk a fine line on this issue, trying to appease Congressional candidates hell bent on using the immigration wedge to gain local favor, while still having to deal with the very real international ramifications of their draconian policies.

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