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Trump administration ending protections for thousands of Nicaraguan migrants, and defers decision on Hondurans

 (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

The Trump administration said Monday it would end a special reprieve from deportation for thousands of Nicaraguans who have been allowed to stay in the U.S. for years, but delayed a decision on similar protections for tens of thousands of Hondurans.

The Department of Homeland Security announced that it would not renew temporary protected status for about 5,300  Nicaraguans whose protections under the program expire on Jan. 5. They will be allowed to stay in the U.S. only until Jan. 5, 2019, unless they qualify to stay under other provisions of immigration law, senior administration officials told reporters.

But the administration gave a six-month reprieve to some 86,000 Hondurans also covered by the program. The officials said that acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke needed more time to determine if conditions in Honduras had improved enough to allow them to return home.

The temporary status program was originally set up to protect immigrants from countries that were badly hurt by hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters. Many have lived in the U.S. for as much as 20 years, with large numbers in Southern California.

The administration's actions have been closely watched for any signal about similar protections for larger groups of people who came from other troubled countries, including Haiti and El Salvador. Deadlines come due soon for deciding on whether to renew protections for those groups.

Administration officials have been signaling their desire to end the protections, arguing that a program that was supposed to provide a temporary respite after disaster and civil wars has instead become a permanent benefit. People with temporary protected status can’t be detained by immigration agents, can obtain work permits and even obtain permission to travel outside the country.

After Hurricane Mitch wrecked much of Central America in 1998, the U.S. extended the temporary protection to immigrants who had entered the country illegally from Honduras and Nicaragua. The program’s protections have been routinely renewed ever since.

The next deadline will involve whether to renew protections for about 50,000 Haitians whose protection will expire on Jan. 22. In all, about 325,000 residents from 10 countries, including El Salvador, Sudan and Syria, are protected under the program.

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