U.S. government moves to expel 57,000 Hondurans by 2020

The Trump administration said Friday it will end temporary protections for immigrants in the United States from Honduras on Jan. 5, 2020, leaving as many as 57,000 people vulnerable to deportation.

Trump administration says it will end temporary protections for people who fled Honduras in 1999

Nefi, 24, a Honduran member of a caravan of migrants from Central America, says goodbye before entering the United States border and customs facility, where he was expected to apply for asylum, in Tijuana, Mexico, earlier this week. (Edgard Garrido/Reuters)

The Trump administration said on Friday it will end temporary protections for immigrants in the United States from Honduras on Jan. 5, 2020, leaving as many as 57,000 people vulnerable to deportation.

It is the latest in a series of decisions by U.S. President Donald Trump to shut down temporary protected status (TPS) granted to immigrants after natural disasters or violent conflicts that would prevent them from safely returning to their home countries.

Trump has denounced a "caravan" of migrants, mostly from Central America, that has crossed Mexico seeking entry into the United States in San Diego. Some are from Honduras. Many of the migrants say they are fleeing violence and political unrest at home and hope to claim asylum in U.S. immigration courts.

Repatriation 'will not be easy'

Marlon Tabora, Honduras' ambassador to the United States, said conditions do not exist in the country to repatriate tens of thousands of people.

"These families have lived in the United States for 20 years and reintegrating them into the country will not be easy if they decide to return," he said.

Hondurans are the second-largest nationality with TPS to lose their status, which was granted to the country — along with Nicaragua — in 1999 following the devastation of Hurricane Mitch. The government said it had conducted a review and found "conditions in Honduras that resulted from the hurricane have notably improved."

The 18-month timeline to end the program would allow "individuals with TPS to arrange for their departure or to seek an alternative lawful immigration," the Department of Homeland Security said in a news release.

TPS critics have complained that repeated extensions in six- to 18-month increments of the status, sometimes for decades, has given beneficiaries de facto residency in the United States.

In November, then acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke set a deadline of six months to make a decision about TPS for Honduras, which is one of the most violent countries in the Western Hemisphere and recently has been convulsed by protests following a contested presidential election.

Riot policemen detain a demonstrator during a protest against Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, earlier this week. (Fredy Rodriguez/Reuters)

Duke is no longer in charge, replaced by Kirstjen Nielsen.

Most of the other countries that have come up for TPS review, including Haiti, Sudan, Nepal, Nicaragua and El Salvador, have been terminated — except for Syria, which is in the midst of a devastating war. 

The largest group affected were Salvadorans. About 200,000 people from that country had been allowed to live and work in the United States since 2001. Their status will expire in 2019.

Karen Valladares, the director of the National Forum for Migration, a non-governmental organization in Honduras, said people still are choosing to leave because of gang and drug-related violence and lack of economic opportunities.

"There have not been concrete improvements in the security situation," Valladares said. In some ways, "Honduras is worse off than when they left."