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WASHINGTON ― The Trump administration is giving notice to about 5,300 Nicaraguan immigrants who have lived in the U.S. on temporary protected status for years: They now have until January 2019 to leave the country, find legal approval to stay or become undocumented.

But the fate of Honduran immigrants with temporary protected status, which allows them to legally remain in the U.S. and work, remains uncertain. Although the Department of Homeland Security had until Monday to determine whether to extend the protections for both countries, Acting Secretary Elaine Duke made no decision on temporary protected status (TPS) for Hondurans because she wanted to review more information, officials said Monday.

The non-decision automatically triggered a six-month extension for the approximately 86,000 Hondurans with TPS, with the possibility of further extensions. 

Immigrants and their advocates have been concerned for months that President Donald Trump’s efforts to drive out undocumented people and keep out other foreign nationals would lead to similarly harsh action on TPS. The program allows some 300,000 immigrants to remain in the U.S. ― where many of them have lived for two decades or more and have U.S.-born children ― after a catastrophic event in their native country. DHS officials must decide in the coming months whether to extend the protections for Salvadorans, who make up the bulk of TPS recipients, and Haitians.

The situation is shaky for TPS holders. Last week, the State Department advised the Department of Homeland Security that countries in Central America and Haiti were no longer suffering from the problems that led past administrations to designate them for TPS.

The Trump administration has proved it’s willing to end protections for immigrants. DHS already ended TPS for immigrants from Sudan, with a 12-month sunset period; and previously warned Haitians they would likely not see another extension. The department also rescinded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a separate program that granted protections and work authorization to young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. DACA and TPS combined are protecting more than a million people from being deported and allowing them to remain in the legal workforce and in school.

Just as Trump said Congress should act when he rescinded DACA, an administration official said Monday that lawmakers should intervene if they want to prevent TPS holders from being kicked out of the country.

The official, who declined to be quoted by name, said “Congress may wish to find a solution that allows [TPS holders] a more permanent status versus this 18-month to 18-month temporary fix that has been going on for two decades,” referring to the repeated short-term extensions. “That is up to Congress, but the administration would support Congress’s efforts to find such a solution.”

The program was designed, as its name indicates, to be temporary, and the homeland security secretary can extend it in increments of six, 12 or 18 months. Administration officials said Monday that they are required by statute to consider the conditions that led to the TPS designation, such as damage sustained by a hurricane.

Honduras and Nicaragua were both designated for TPS in 1999 after a hurricane caused extensive damage to Central American countries. Immigrants are eligible for TPS only if they have lived in the U.S. since before their native country was first designated for the program, so all of those recipients have lived in the U.S. 18 years or more.

DHS determined that Nicaragua would not require an extension for TPS because conditions there had improved, an official told reporters. The nation’s government did not request an extension, the official said.

The officials declined to say whether the White House had any involvement in the decision but said it was made by the acting secretary based on assessment of facts and the statute.  

TPS for Nicaraguans was set to expire Jan. 5 but will now end a year later to give recipients time to make arrangements. They are required to either find legal status to stay in the U.S. or leave by that time. Administration officials said there are no plans to target former TPS holders for deportation, although they would not be protected from it. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which administers TPS, does not proactively give information about the status to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which leads deportation efforts, an official said.

They are our neighbors, our co-workers, and parents to U.S. citizen children. Deporting them will needlessly tear thousands of families apart. Amanda Baran, Immigrant Legal Resource Center

Immigrant rights advocates condemned the decision. Amanda Baran of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center called it “morally reprehensible.”

“For almost two decades, TPS holders from Nicaragua have lived alongside us and contributed to our economy and our communities,” she said in a statement. “They are our neighbors, our co-workers, and parents to U.S. citizen children. Deporting them will needlessly tear thousands of families apart, with no plan in place to help them after breaking our decades-long commitment to protect them from deportation.”  

Later this month, the administration will be required to announce whether it will extend TPS for Haitian TPS recipients who have lived in the U.S. since at least January 2011. (The country was designated for TPS following an earthquake there in 2010.) In May, then-DHS Secretary John Kelly, who is now White House chief of staff, warned Haitians that he was likely to end their protections when he approved a short-term extension of TPS for the country. Officials said in May that Haitian TPS holders should use that time to get their affairs in order for leaving the U.S.

If Trump and his administration want a permanent solution for TPS recipients, there are efforts underway in Congress. A group of Democrats in Congress is pushing for a bill that would allow TPS recipients who have lived in the U.S. with the protections for at least three years to pursue permanent legal status.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the decision “is a cowardly assault on thousands of families.” She said House Democrats were calling on the administration “to immediately rescind this decision” but that if it does not, Congress should pass a permanent fix.

“With this act of senseless prejudice, the Administration is once again putting bigotry over our nation’s values and security,” Pelosi said in a statement. “This is a dark night of heartbreak and tears for thousands of families targeted by this decision and all the others fearful of losing their Temporary Protected Status because of President Trump.” 

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.

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