Trump Administration Moves To Expel 300,000 Immigrants, Despite Warnings From Senior Diplomats

As many as 300,000 Central Americans and Haitians in the U.S. are facing deportation after the Trump administration ended protections allowing them to live and work in the U.S. legally, despite warnings from senior U.S. diplomats that it could cause regional instability and prompt a surge in illegal immigration.

Senate Democrats are investigating cables received—and ignored—by top State Department officials from senior diplomats warning against ending protections under the temporary protected status (TPS) program, which allows foreign nationals whose countries have been destabilized by natural disasters and war to live and work in the U.S., The Washington Post has reported.

Immigrants and activists protest near the White House to demand that the Department of Homeland Security extend temporary protected status for more than 195,000 Salvadorans on January 8. ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty

Last Friday, 57,000 Hondurans were put on notice that they had 18 months to leave the country after the Trump administration withdrew their protections. They joined the 195,000 Salvadorans and 46,000 Haitians already told they would no longer benefit from the TPS program in an apparent bid to phase it out.

TPS holders have given birth to as many as 273,000 children while in the U.S., according to the Center for Migration Studies. With their children born as U.S. citizens, parents will have to decide whether to stay in the country and risk deportation or return to their home countries with or without their children.

Hondurans were first granted TPS in 1999 after Hurricane Mitch tore through the Central American country, leaving a trail of devastation. Then–President Carlos Flores Facusse said the hurricane had set back economic development in the country by 50 years.

Now, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has said the country is stable enough to see the return of thousands of citizens.

However, the Honduran Embassy and dozens of U.S. lawmakers have warned that ending the TPS program for Hondurans will put thousands at risk by forcing them to return to a country that has been rocked by violence, particularly in the wake of last November's re-election of President Juan Orlando Hernández.

In a statement sent to Newsweek, Democratic Representative Jimmy Gomez warned of the risks of a decision that he said "fits an ongoing pattern of xenophobia that has emanated from the White House."

"Unfortunately, it's no surprise that Donald Trump has decided to kick out 57,000 Hondurans who have worked, paid taxes and raised children in the U.S. for decades," Gomez said.

"The decision to end TPS for Honduras fits an ongoing pattern of xenophobia that has emanated from the White House—something that was made explicit when Trump referred to TPS and African nations as 'shithole countries,'" he added.

"Hondurans will now be among the hundreds of thousands of TPS recipients from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, Sudan and Nepal that will be forcibly torn from their families, jobs and businesses—only to be sent back to a life of danger and uncertainty," Gomez said. He called on colleagues in Congress to protect TPS holders by passing the American Promise Act (APA).

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The APA seeks to create a path to permanent residency in the U.S. for beneficiaries of the TPS program and the Deferred Enforcement Departure program.

Earlier this month, Gomez and other representatives urged Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to renew the TPS program for Honduras in a letter signed by 53 congressional members.

The letter states that while the U.S. has made "substantial efforts" to help Honduras in its recovery from a series of natural disasters that "left the country devastated" in 1998, "the damage of these cataclysmic events compounded by the residual effects of disease, violence and poverty have resulted in stagnant recovery."

"Conditions simply have not sufficiently improved to safely and productively reintegrate TPS recipients in their home communities," the letter says, demanding that the Trump administration give Honduras "more time to rebuild."

The plight of Hondurans has come to the fore in recent weeks, after a "caravan" of Central Americans traveled across Mexico to the U.S. border to claim asylum, making headlines and drawing President Donald Trump's ire.

Trump had vowed to stop the group of asylum seekers from entering the U.S., but so far at least 158 people have been let into the country to make their cases for asylum.