President Donald Trump is ending special protections for Salvadoran immigrants, telling 200,000 legal immigrants to leave the country or face deportation, officials said Monday.
And President Barack Obama will not be happy about the news.
El Salvador is the fourth country whose citizens have lost Temporary Protected Status under Trump, and they have been, by far, the largest beneficiaries of the program, which provides temporary status to illegal immigrants whose countries are hit with natural disasters or war.
One official said Salvadorans will have until September 2019 to leave the country or adjust their legal status.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s decision, while not surprising, will send shivers through parts of Washington, Los Angeles, New York, Houston and other metropolitan areas that are home to large numbers of Salvadorans, who have enjoyed special protection since earthquakes struck the Central American country in 2001.
It also represents a serious challenge for El Salvador, a country of 6.2 million people who depend on wage earners in the U.S. to send back American dollars to family. Over the last decade, growing numbers of Salvadorans — many coming as families or unaccompanied children — have entered the United States illegally through Mexico to take advantage of the legal loophole.
In September 2016, the Obama administration extended protections for 18 months, but Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen faced a Monday deadline to decide whether to grant another extension… and said, “No way.”
The decision comes amid intensifying talks between the White House and Congress on an immigration package that may include amnesty for hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who came to the country as children and were temporarily shielded from deportation under an Obama-era program. Trump said in September that he was ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, but gave Congress until March to act.
The U.S. created Temporary Protected Status in 1990 to provide a safe haven from countries affected by earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, war and other disasters, and it currently shields nearly 320,000 people from the law. There are nearly 440,000 beneficiaries from the 10 countries, including 263,000 from El Salvador; some have obtained legal status other ways.
The benefit, which includes work authorization, can be renewed up to 18 months at a time by the Homeland Security secretary. Critics say it has proved anything but temporary — with many beneficiaries staying years after the initial justification applies.
Nielsen said last week that short-term extensions are not the answer.
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“Getting them to a permanent solution is a much better plan than having them live six months to 12 months to 18 months,” she said.
In November, Nielsen’s predecessor, acting Secretary Elaine Duke, ended the protection for Haitians, requiring about 50,000 to leave or adjust their legal status by July 22, 2019, and for Nicaraguans, giving about 2,500 until Jan. 5, 2019. She delayed a decision affecting more than 50,000 Hondurans, foisting the decision onto Nielsen.
Last year, the Trump administration extended status for South Sudan and ended it for Sudan. Other countries covered are Nepal, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.