Two Weeks, Two Countries: Attacks Continue on Immigrants’ Protected Status

"To me, this means this administration has no heart, no feelings, no humanity. They don't understand or care that if we are deported, our lives will be in danger."

[Photo: Belinda Osorio Hanzman and her family]
Deportation is the ultimate fear among TPS recipients who have spoken to Rewire.News. Because many have deep roots in the United States, deportation means being ripped from their U.S. citizen children. Courtesy of Belinda Osorio Hanzman

Belinda Osorio Hanzman stayed up until 1 a.m. on election night 2016 watching the results roll in, completely discouraged. She went to bed hoping something would “miraculously change” in the wee hours of the morning. She woke up the next day, turned on the news, and saw that Donald Trump had won the presidency. She cried.

“I cried because in that moment, I knew Trump was going to end [Temporary Protected Status],” said Osorio Hanzman, who was born and raised in Honduras. “I knew it in my heart, and I knew things were going to change for my family.”

Osorio Hanzman has been in the United States for almost 30 years, and has had Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for almost 20 years. She has U.S. citizen children with her U.S. citizen husband. None of this changes the fact that when U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announces the end of TPS for Honduras today, as she is expected to, Osorio Hanzman will soon become deportable, which will subject her children to harm.

Nielsen over the past two weeks has announced the termination of TPS for Nepal and will reportedly soon end TPS for Honduras, despite urging from lawmakers to “take the extraordinary crisis in Honduras into account and renew its TPS designation for the maximum 18 months,” according to a letter to Nielsen signed by 17 members of Congress. 

In the past twelve months, TPS designations have been terminated for Haiti, El Salvador, Sudan, Liberia, Nicaragua, Nepal and now Honduras. In March, Liberia was stripped of the little known designation Deferred Enforced Departure (DED), an administrative stay of removal that can only be authorized by the president. These terminations have lead to around 322,000 people losing lawful status in the United States. 

“My country is a very dangerous place, especially for my 14-year-old son. There are a lot of gangs there and he’s at the age where the gangs begin to recruit them and if they say no, they beat them or kill them. I will not leave the United States. I am staying here with my family,” Osorio Hanzman said. 

Honduras is one of the three countries that comprise what is known as Central America’s “violent northern triangle,” an area “plagued by endemic levels of crime and violence that have made many communities extremely dangerous, especially for children and young adults,” according to the Washington Office on Latin America. There are an estimated 57,000 Honduran TPS recipients, many of whom have resided in the United States for decades. 

Honduras was first granted TPS after Hurricane Mitch devastated the country in 1998, but many have continued to flee and seek asylum in the United States because of rampant gang and gender-based violence. Honduras is among the countries with the world’s highest rates of murder, according to Human Rights Watch.

Before, Osorio Hanzman says she would have been afraid to publicly make strong statements, but now she feels comfortable saying she will not return to Honduras. As a member of the labor union Unite Here, which she joined six years ago when she became a housekeeper at Disney World in Orlando, the mother of two has learned to “speak up” and fight for her rights. TPS is the reason she was able to obtain a union job. Now that the humanitarian program has been terminated, Osorio Hanzman is left with few options.

“A lot of people say things like, ‘TPS was supposed to be temporary.’ But for past administrations, this wasn’t an issue. Obama automatically extended TPS every time and even for Bush, [TPS] wasn’t an issue. TPS used to need to be extended every year; Bush changed it to 18 months, giving us even more time,” Osorio Hanzman said in a phone interview. “A lot of people also ask me why I haven’t tried to become a citizen. Many Americans just don’t understand immigration laws.”

Osorio Hanzman, who has been married to her husband for 14 years, has tried to adjust her status through her marriage, but because of circumstances related to her migration, she’s been bombarded by roadblocks.

Osorio Hanzman first entered the United States without authorization and was taken into custody by U.S. Border Patrol, who detained her for five days. Her family paid a $1,000 bond and she was released from federal custody. Officials allowed her to remain in the United States for the three months leading up to her court hearing. But Osorio Hanzman didn’t attend her hearing. Others who had faced similar circumstances and who were sent to immigration court were deported. She feared the same would happen to her. Not attending her hearing triggered her deportation order, but because she qualified for TPS, she wasn’t removed from the United States.

The stakes are now high for Osorio Hanzman when the wind down period for Honduran TPS recipients ends. This old deportation order is what’s hindering her from more quickly adjusting her status, but if she can’t adjust her status before TPS officially ends in the next 12-18 months, she will likely be targeted for deportation.

Deportation is the ultimate fear among TPS recipients who have spoken to Rewire.News. Because many have deep roots in the United States, deportation means being ripped from their U.S. citizen children. This is a concern for Jose Aguilar, who works with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union in Birmingham, Alabama. Like Osorio Hanzman, Aguilar is a Honduran TPS recipient with U.S. citizen children. He has been in the United States for more than two decades.

Aguilar said ending TPS for Honduras will not just harm immigrant communities, but all communities they inhabit.

With his union, Aguilar works in Spanish and English and much of what he does involves teaching people in the United States about their rights as workers and how to advocate for themselves. He also works in Birmingham with young people, motivating them to give back to their communities and get involved in sports.

“American families with good hearts know that terminating TPS will come at a great cost to all of us,” Aguilar said. “We are grateful to the United States for giving us the opportunity to be here, and if this administration were smart, they would see the value we add. We are working and contributing to the economy and by ending our status, they are ending our work authorization. We also pay fees every 18 months to continue TPS, those are fees the U.S. will no longer get. There are [almost] 60,000 of us Hondurans [with TPS] here. That’s a lot to lose.”

Nepal was first granted TPS after a devastating April 2015 earthquake killed nearly 9,000 people. As recently as May 2017, it was reported that recovery has been “painfully slow” in Nepal and that nearly 70 percent of people affected by the earthquake still live in temporary shelters

Gita, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, is a Nepalese TPS recipient and nail salon worker. Gita said in a statement that one of the benefits of TPS was that it allowed her to be unafraid and to “work in peace.”

“I got a work permit and health insurance. It made my life easier for me and gave me the confidence to advocate for myself with my employers,” she said. “This decision [to end TPS] makes me sad, but I know that in these 12 months we need to fight for a permanent pathway to citizenship. I want to make sure that other countries and other people are able to benefit. This is the time to fight now.”

Nepalese advocacy organizations like Adhikaar are calling on Congress to pass bills that would give TPS and DED holders a pathway to permanent residency, including the American Promise Act, the SECURE Act, and the ASPIRE TPS Act.

Pabitra Khati Benjamin, executive director of Adhikaar, said Nielsen’s decision to terminate TPS for Nepal is “not just wrong, but immoral.”

It is clear that in the three years since the earthquake, Nepal is still very much in recovery mode. Less than 13.3 percent of the homes affected have been rebuilt. Yes, the country is functioning but that is in part as a result of TPS holders sending money back home to rebuild,” Khati Benjamin said in a statement. “Canceling TPS adds to the immigration crisis our country is suffocating under as a result of our political leaders’ inability to address immigration reform.

Nielsen said in January she would determine TPS status “on a country-by-country basis.” But advocates fear the Trump administration is phasing out the humanitarian program entirely.

Amanda Baran, a TPS expert with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, told Rewire.News in November that Haiti’s TPS status should be extended because the country was hit with multiple natural disasters and was experiencing a cholera outbreak long after its original TPS designation was given in 2010. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) terminated TPS for Haiti later that month, affecting 50,000 Haitian immigrants.

By law, when the conditions from the original disaster that triggered TPS have improved, the humanitarian designation must expire. As with the other countries for which TPS has ended, including Nepal, the Trump administration has maintained that Haiti is improved and ready to reabsorb nearly 60,000 people. There is a great deal of evidence to the contrary, including “deep concern” among Haitian officials about the termination of TPS, CNN reported. What’s more, Trump’s vehemently anti-immigrant administration contradicted its own staff’s assessment of Haiti, according to CNN.

Baran expressed concern about the influence of anti-immigrant zealots in the Trump administration and the influence they may have over DHS’ decisions about TPS. Policy adviser Stephen Miller, for example, parrots white supremacist talking points and has been instrumental to the Trump administration’s push to curb legal immigration, increase deportation, and “put the onus on Congress to designate individuals who qualify for temporary protected status in the U.S.―a move that that would likely stunt anyone from getting that designation,” according to the Huffington Post.

“I think the Trump administration has gone in knowing they want to end TPS. That is going to be their guiding principal in figuring out how to end these programs. They’re going in with that conclusion and trying to find evidence to support that conclusion,” Baran said in November.

Rewire.News reached out to U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) inquiring about the end of the TPS humanitarian program. USCIS referred Rewire.News to DHS, which referred Rewire.News to the White House and the State Department. None of the agencies provided an answer. 

When countries have their TPS designations terminated, there are other options. The Trump administration is simply choosing not to offer them. Nepal, for example, could be granted DED.

Royce Bernstein Murray, a DED expert and the policy director at the American Immigration Council, told Rewire.News that while TPS is subject to more “specific statutory criteria,” DED derives from the foreign policy authority of the president and is “wide open.”

“There is nothing in the Constitution—in statute or in regulations—that specifies how decisions regarding DED have to be made,” Bernstein Murray said. Trump could decide the United States has foreign policy-related reasons to give DED to Haiti or El Salvador, for example. But the chances of that are unlikely, given the administration’s anti-immigrant approach and the president’s comments expressing disdain for people from what he referred to as “shithole countries,” naming Haiti and El Salvador.

Like the 322,000 immigrants who have lost status because of the Trump administration’s end to humanitarian programs, Aguilar said he has built an entire life in the United States, and has no intention of leaving it behind. He has older children to whom he has promised a college education, and he says he won’t deviate from that goal.

“The people in this administration have a really hard heart to take away TPS from people who are just trying be here and take care of their families. When they ended TPS for Nepal it was so horrible and inhumane,” Aguilar said. “To me, this means this administration has no heart, no feelings, no humanity. They don’t understand or care that if we are deported, our lives will be in danger. Some of us will die. This is just one of the many reasons we won’t go back.”

CORRECTION: The span of time during which the Trump administration terminated TPS for Haiti, El Salvador, Sudan, Liberia, Nicaragua, Nepal, and Honduras was twelve months, not eight months as the story previously said.