Many Hondurans, Nicaraguans Not Renewing Guest Permits

By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 1, 2006

Tens of thousands of Honduran and Nicaraguan immigrants nationwide risk losing their legal status in the United States today because they have not renewed their temporary work permits under a program to help victims of natural disasters, some in the mistaken belief that they will soon be on the path to becoming U.S. citizens.

With the deadline approaching by the end of today, about half the eligible applicants have yet to apply for renewal. They could lose their jobs and face deportation, jeopardizing the livelihoods of thousands of relatives here and in their homelands who depend on their salaries.

About 75,000 Hondurans and 4,000 Nicaraguans got the permits, issued under the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) Program, after Hurricane Mitch in 1998. The permits, if renewed, would allow them to live and work legally in the United States for another year.

According to the latest numbers available as of Friday, only 37,870 Hondurans and 1,778 Nicaraguans nationwide have renewed, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said.

Spokesman Shawn Saucier said the agency hopes the other eligible applicants would renew by the end of today. But so far the numbers are far less than at this time in previous renewal years.

"We feel that these numbers are very low," Saucier said. "We're very concerned."

Many Hondurans and Nicaraguans have not yet renewed because they think they will soon benefit from immigration reforms, including a guest worker program and other measures that could pave the way for citizenship, immigrant advocates said. Many are reluctant to spend the $250 TPS renewal fee, preferring to save their money for future citizenship applications.

"We still believe there's a lot of confusion over the immigration reforms," said David Hernandez, counselor for immigration affairs at the Honduran Embassy. "Many appear to be waiting for the new rules.

"They think it's going to cost a lot," he said. "They believe they will pay double if they renew."

The confusion is being fueled by various factors, ranging from hope raised by the creation of a national immigrant rights movement to a misunderstanding about the way the U.S. political system works. Spanish-language media have also been predicting the passage of immigration legislation now winding through Congress.

Last week, the Senate approved legislation that would establish a guest worker program and allow illegal immigrants who have been here five years or longer to stay and apply for citizenship, as long as they pay back taxes, learn English and have not committed any serious crimes. The bill still faces tough opposition in the House.

"We're hopeful that people will realize that there is no temporary guest worker program at this time and will not take a chance of being deported from the United States," Saucier said.

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