Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Friday terminated the special immigration designation that Hondurans used to seek refuge in America when a catastrophic storm pummeled their home country nearly two decades ago.
After determining that the destruction caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 had “decreased to a degree that it should no longer be regarded as substantial,” Nielsen decided to end the Temporary Protected Status protecting Hondurans who fled to the U.S., according to a Department of Homeland Security news release.
The designation, which was granted in 1999, will sunset in January 2020 — imperiling the roughly 86,000 Hondurans currently covered by TPS.
“Since 1999, conditions in Honduras that resulted from the hurricane have notably improved,” the department said in the release. “Additionally, since the last review of the country’s conditions in October 2016, Honduras has made substantial progress in post-hurricane recovery and reconstruction from the 1998 Hurricane Mitch.”
Hondurans who came to the U.S. under TPS must now arrange for their departure or seek an alternative immigration status to remain in the country legally, the department said, and the delayed timetable for the designation cancellation will allow Honduras “to prepare for the return and reintegration of its citizens.”
The department also committed to working with the State Department and the Honduran government “to help educate relevant stakeholders and facilitate an orderly transition,” and it will participate in outreach activities, including teleconferences and town halls, “to ensure that affected populations have a full and accurate understanding of their rights and obligations.”
Still, those émigrés will be required to obtain new work documents and reapply for TPS well before the termination date — though it is not yet clear when the re-registration period will take place.
“Honduran TPS beneficiaries should not submit re-registration applications until the re-registration period is announced through the Federal Register notice,” the department said.