The United States will end a long-standing program offering temporary immigration status to Nicaraguans, following an announcement from the Department of Homeland Security. Nicaraguans have had Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, since 1999, in response to the devastation caused by category 5 storm Hurricane Mitch.
Denise Gilman, law professor and director of the University of Texas at Austin’s immigration clinic, says Temporary Protected Status was designed to be a temporary form of relief for people to remain in the U.S. after natural or man-made disasters.
“The name itself sounds as though it would be more temporary than it in fact has been,” Gilman says. “Many of these designations date back to 1990, 1992, so we’re talking over 20 years. It really is going to be a huge rupture for those individuals, and frankly for our communities and our economy. They’ve been contributing probably $3 billion to the economy on an annual basis in their employment and taxes and contributions to social security and the like.”
Gilman says the president makes the decision about which countries are eligible for Temporary Protected Status.
“The possibility to be granted Temporary Protected Status is set forth by Congress, but then in any particular instance, the executive branch – the president, essentially – has to designate a particular country as meriting Temporary Protected Status,” she says.
The effective termination date for Nicaraguans will be January 5, 2019, but DHS says no decision has been reached yet about Honduras.
“Hondurans are a pretty large community, particularly here in Austin, but in Texas in general, and so that’s impactful,” Gilman says.
She says Nicaraguans who want to stay in the United States have no clear path ahead of them.
“There’s no appeal and TPS has never provided any way, any mechanism for them to become permanent residents to obtain more permanent status in the United States,” she says. “And so for most of these individuals, once TPS ends they either go home or they become undocumented.”
Gilman says she’s doubtful that they’ll face quick deportation, though, because immigration courts already have a backlog of about 600,000 cases.
“So what I really expect to happen, given the difficulties of deporting 300,000 people and the expense to that and the opposition you’d see from the business community and others, is that these individuals will remain in the United States – or at least many of them will,” she says. “They will feel much more vulnerable and they will also be exploited because they will now have less ability to come forward and to complain and to make sure that their rights are respected in the workplace. So I expect they’ll become an underclass.”
Written by Jen Rice.