The Department of Homeland Security announced Monday that it will terminate a form of protected immigration status for about 262,500 Salvadorans living in the United States next year, and urged Congress to come up with a legislative fix during an 18-month delay.
The decision to end what’s known as Temporary Protected Status for El Salvador comes after DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen determined “the original conditions caused by the 2001 earthquakes no longer exist.”
The delay will allow TPS recipients from El Salvador time to make arrangements to leave the United States or seek legal immigration status if they are eligible, before the designation officially ends Sept. 9, 2019. DHS noted in a news release that “only Congress can legislate a permanent solution addressing the lack of an enduring lawful immigration status of those currently protected by TPS who have lived and worked in the United States for many years.”
More than 39,000 Salvadorans have gone back to the country over the last two years, DHS said, which demonstrates “that the temporary inability of El Salvador to adequately return their nationals after the earthquake has been addressed.”
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The announcement was condemned by some Senate Democrats, who are embroiled in a dispute with President Donald Trump over his plans to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and for a U.S.-Mexico border wall. They say Trump is pursuing a heartless immigration agenda that threatens to split so-called Dreamers enrolled in DACA, Salvadorans in TPS and thousands of others people with provisional status who call the U.S. their home.
“Today’s decision is a poignant reminder that we have an anti-immigrant president who turns his back on hardworking families and insists on governing by fear and intimidation. This President continues to use immigrants as scapegoats,” Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto said in a news release.
Cortez Masto urged passage of a bill by fellow Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland that would provide a path to citizenship for Salvadorans.
Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida, a Republican who has been on the same side as Democrats on DACA, TPS and other immigration issues, said he was disappointed by the DHS decision.
“Many years of short-term extensions have created anxiety and uncertainty, not only for these immigrants and their families, but also for employers and neighbors who have welcomed them to our communities,” said Curbelo, sponsor of a bill that would protect TPS recipients from deportation.
El Salvador was designated for TPS in 2001 after two earthquakes ravaged nearly two-thirds of the country. The federal government can grant TPS to countries endangered by natural disasters, epidemics or armed conflicts.
About 400,000 people from 10 TPS-designated countries live in the United States, with Salvadorans being the largest group.
DHS said El Salvador has received significant international aid since the 2001 earthquake and that schools and hospitals have been reconstructed and repaired, while homes have been built and infrastructure projects are underway.
The country, however, has one of the world’s highest murder rates and gang violence is rampant.