U.S. ends protected status for Nicaraguan immigrants

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The Trump administration announced the end of a 1999 program that protects more than 5,000 Nicaraguans from deportation, giving the recipients of this special status until 2019 to either apply for an alternative immigration status or leave the country.

Ruben Reyes, National Elected Director for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, joined Horizonte to discuss the implication of ending the Temporary Protected Status program.


Ruben Reyes: Thank you.

Jose Cardenas: Let's talk about how the program got started.

Ruben Reyes: So back in 1990, Congress passed the law granting T-P-S for Salvadorian nationals who found themselves living here kind of trapped here with their conditions in their countries back then and in 1998 back then attorney Janet Reno expanded the program to other countries. Who didn't quite meet the definition of refuge asylum but for other reasons feared going back to a devastated country or dangerous country.

Jose Cardenas: So the first one was for El Salvador.

Ruben Reyes: Yes, sir.

Jose Cardenas: Did they meet the criteria for refugee status?

Ruben Reyes: And that’s kind of why there is T-P-S because they don’t necessarily meet the high bar for being a refugee, however the United States understood and recognized that there was a humanitarian crisis and T-P-S was the humanitarian relief that was offered at the time through congress and has been extended through that time.

Jose Cardenas: And the distinction between refugee status and T-P-S is what, that is truly is supposed to be temporary. You’re here for enough period of time to resolve whatever the circumstances were that forced you to leave.

Ruben Reyes: And I think the lack of, let's say, persecution in any particular case. They are necessarily not fleeing persecution, torture or genocide but it could be that the complete infrastructure was wiped out.

Jose Cardenas: So in El Salvador, it could be the high crime.

Ruben Reyes: Well that would be one consideration that we would like to see, also political stability would be another reason. Whether or not El Salvador could absorb these individuals without causing further crisis.

Jose Cardenas: And among the groups granted, the status the Haitian's and I assume that is because of the devastating weather conditions and floods and so forth that affected that country a few years ago.

Ruben Reyes: My assumption would be that it would also be a consideration; however, I think the administration has strongly signaled the desire to end T-P-S. I think there’s some within the administration that have argued that T-P-S has overstayed it’s welcome and is supposed to be temporary. I think they would argue that it’s been existent for too long. However, the counter argument is that these countries continue to be devastated, they continue to suffer high crime, instability and a lot of these families would now be leaving with the American children that are United States citizen and how they are treated in those host countries I think is also a consideration that the government should take a good look at.

Jose: Over a period of time the program was extended to a total of 10 countries as I understand it.

Ruben Reyes: 10 currently have T-P-S right now, yes.

Jose Cardenas: And at the time, it was granted, was there any conception people had to what temporary meant? Was it 3-4 or 5 years? In case of El Salvador it is now 20 years right.

Ruben Reyes: Right and I think that is the problem or the issue is that there is some kind of an expectation. If you take El Salvador as the example, we are talking since 1990. WE have others that aren’t so recent. Yemenis are not so long, Syria, but we don't know and ever administration gives a different idea which further increase instability.

Jose Cardenas: And as I understand the process to date has been there is a definite date by which TPS is supposed to end and the administrations keeps extending that, is that right?

Ruben Reyes: Right. There is this unless we extend it that could be the final date. A good example of how that works is we have seen that the acting secretary extended TPS for other groups through January and March but they delayed the termination of the NICARAGUANS T-P-S. So they said they’re gonna terminate it but they’re gonna give them a year for orderly removal, whatever that means.

Jose Cardenas: After which presumably customs and border protection will be out picking them up.

Ruben Reyes: Well, that’s the question right. How far is this administration gonna go. We also have the recession of DACA and that’s 800,000 youth that are currently in this legal limbo. Unless congress decides to act so much for the bad hombres theory. It seems they are going after people who in everything other than name would be considered Americans.

Jose: So for the Nicaraguans there’s what 5,000?

Ruben Reyes: About 5,000.

Jose Cardenas: One of the smaller groups?

Ruben Reyes: Yes sir.

Jose Cardenas: Was that a factor in the decision to start with them?

Ruben Reyes: I am not sure but it could be that because there is so few of them they might not be able to raise enough political capital to change that decision. However, I think if you’re looking at T-P-s recipients as a they’re about a little under 500,000 and you take in the spouses, American-born children and the communities they exist in. I think it becomes a much bigger population who is interested in maintaining the status or creating some sort of a compliance so they can stay here long term a green card process. They have already been here; they have proven to be good citizens. They have an employment rate higher than national average. It would seem to be the American success stories if it came into compliance for long-term state versus maintain the TPS status or just ending it.

Jose Cardenas: So all of the prior announcements by the president regarding immigration or at least it seems this way. Have been met with legal changes including by the organization such as a that organization you remember that you are on the board of directors. Has anything like that been done here?

Ruben Reyes: At this point, I am not aware of any challenges to the canceling of TPS and that might be because it is premature. The first actual ending termination of T-P-S will be January 5 of 2019. We are still a little bit a ways from that. We saw the challenges coming after DACA was canceled and now we will see after TPS is canceled what will happen. We do have In the 9th circuit, Arizona, California, Washington the recognition that TPS serves as an admission and legally speaking that just means that if they marry a citizen or a legal permit resident it might be a way for them to actually get a green card.

Jose Cardenas: There might be other things they could do but what legal arguments would there be as we noted at the beginning of the discussion it does say temporary protected status in the case from the folks from El Salvador that’s 27-years now.

Ruben Reyes: I think the argument is though, has the definition changed, are we moving the goal post here? Is El Salvador any safer? Is there less crime? Is the government more solid in being able to reign in crime and can the government -- can EL Salvador absorb 250,000 of its own nationals and how many 50,000 American children. Can El Salvador really do this and I think If we take it country by country analysis, the administration would have a lot to answer for. I don't think we will hear much even if we do ask those kind of questions.

Jose Cardenas: We did hear about a dispute at least a reported one between the acting secretariat and President Trump’s chief of staff Mr. Kelly, general Kelly. As I understand, he was upset because he didn't end the whole program for everybody and she said she will do it on a case by case basis.

Ruben Reyes: It might have been the lawyer's answer to a blunt directive which is if we cancel them all now it’s not gonna look like we took anytime to analyze each situation individually. We’re just gonna kind of do this in a capricious way and so this might be the defense to that. However I believe that in the end this administration will do all it’s power to end TPS for those recipients who are currently with the program

Jose Cardenas: Now speaking of El Salvador that’s the largest group isn’t it?

Ruben Reyes: A quarter of a million

Jose Cardenas: How much of this, I think you might have been eluting to this just a moment ago when you said this administration, is it part of the administration’s commitment to be tougher on immigration.

Ruben Reyes: You know, I think tougher you know is definitely not smarter on immigration I think what we’re seeing is a backlog of immigration court cases deprioritization of innocent people who have nothing but close ties and a really positive history in this country. American citizen children and we’re not going after the bad hombres, we’re going after everybody and I think this administration is starting to realize that you’re now affecting business, you’re affecting commerce you’re affecting relations with our partners. Mexico being one of closest trading partners, we can’t do this alone and this country is greater because we have immigrants. I’m a first generation American and very proud of it. My father went to the second grade, my grandmother never went to school and here I am a lawyer. It speaks to the greatness of this nation and I think it is inhumane to forget we are talking about human families here.

Jose Cardenas: And we will be talking about this a lot more in the months to come. Thank you so much for joining us on Horizonte. Coming up later in the show, an organization helping students in inner city schools.

Ruben Reyes: National Elected Director, American Immigration Lawyers Association

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