Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas renewed a deportation amnesty for some 350,000 migrants from four countries on Tuesday, but did not reopen the amnesty for new people to apply.
The extension of what’s known as “Temporary Protected Status” covers El Salvador, Honduras, Nepal and Nicaragua. It grants another 18 months of time in the U.S. without fear of deportation.
Immigrant rights advocates cheered the move but said it fell short. Many advocates had been urging Mr. Mayorkas to not only renew status for those already covered but also to “redesignate” the countries, which would have added a new window of eligibility for hundreds of thousands more people to come forward and gain access to the amnesty.
Rep. Joaquin Castro, Texas Democrat, said Mr. Mayorkas had caved to “political fear” in refusing to expand TPS to cover the new arrivals.
“Unless President Biden does the right thing, millions of people will remain in limbo — terrified to return home to countries that are not safe, and unable to work or contribute to the American communities they now call home,” Mr. Castro said.
TPS is intended as a safety valve for migrants whose home countries have suffered a natural disaster, are embroiled in war or face other turmoil that makes it unsafe for people to return. It is supposed to last only as long as the initial conditions that sparked TPS remain in effect. The goal is to give the countries time to recover without a surge of returning residents.
Yet the program has become anything but temporary for some.
Roughly 250,000 Salvadorans are still living in the U.S. under TPS status dating back to 2001, which is when a series of earthquakes struck. More than two decades later, Mr. Mayorkas says the nation still hasn’t recovered enough from that event to take back its people.
Honduras and Nicaragua, with another 85,000 people, have been covered under TPS dating back to Hurricane Mitch in 1998.
The Trump administration tried to bring an end to TPS for those and other long-listed nations but courts blocked the attempt.
On Tuesday, Mr. Mayorkas formally revoked the Trump decisions.
He said the countries continue to need the assistance provided by keeping their citizens here.
Immigration activists say conditions in Central America are rough enough that the U.S. should grant a new window of TPS, open to people who aren’t already eligible because they came after 1998 or 2001.
“If it is unsafe and unwise to send back individuals from these countries who arrived in the 1990s, it is unsafe and unwise to send back those who have fled instability and violence more recently and are left out of today’s announcement,” said Vanessa Cardenas, executive director of America’s Voice.
Yet that underlines another contradiction in the Biden policy.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the government’s deportation agency, reported making 256 deportation flights last year to Guatemala, 220 to Honduras and 120 to El Salvador, totaling more than 20,000 people sent back.
ICE counted more than 2 million people from those three countries loose in the U.S. but still on its deportation docket at the end of fiscal year 2022.