The Trump administration said Monday that it will extend the temporary work permits of 200,000 Salvadorans living in the United States, reversing course on President Trump’s earlier vow to deport them.

U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Ronald Johnson and Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele said that the United States is extending El Salvador’s temporary protected status, a provisional residency granted to thousands of Salvadorans after the country was ravaged by an earthquake in 2001. The status had been renewed on an 18-month basis since, until the Trump administration announced its termination in 2018, saying TPS was no longer warranted for nationals of El Salvador, Haiti, Sudan and Nicaragua.

A federal judge stalled the deportations last year, ordering the government to uphold TPS for those nationals until the litigation is resolved.

AD
AD

“We are very happy to be able to announce that today in Washington, D.C., we have reached an agreement to extend TPS for Salvadorans in the United States for one more year,” Johnson said in Spanish on Monday, appearing in a video alongside Bukele, which each sent out on Twitter. “This is a recognition of the achievements and good work of President Nayib Bukele’s government.”

Congress created TPS in 1990 to give nationals of countries upended by natural disasters, armed conflict or other major turmoil temporary relief from deportation out of the United States. The secretary of homeland security can renew the status if the conditions that necessitated TPS have not improved or if a country is unable to absorb returnees.

About 500,000 people have been allowed to stay in the United States as a result of the protected status, and Salvadorans are the largest group, according to federal data.

AD
AD

The Trump administration has pushed to limit the use of the program, arguing that disasters that occurred years ago should not be grounds for temporary residency now. The administration regularly deports people to some TPS-designated countries.

Trump has sought to end TPS for nearly all of the 10 nationalities that are protected, while also working to reduce the avenues to asylum and legal permanent residency.

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the administration to challenge its efforts to end TPS protections, accusing it of discrimination. Federal judges have issued preliminary injunctions to halt the deportation of the Salvadorans, Haitians, Hondurans, and Nicaraguans, whose TPS the administration has tried to terminate. The Trump administration has appealed that decision, and advocates expect an appellate court ruling soon.

AD
AD

The largest number of Salvadorans with TPS live in the Washington, D.C., area, followed by Los Angeles, New York and Houston.

Many Salvadorans fear returning to a country that ranks among the most dangerous in the world, a nation that long has experienced high rates of poverty, corruption and gang violence. Salvadorans also send home billions of dollars a year to relatives, a critical infusion that helps keep the economy afloat.

In a statement, DHS said it arrived at its revised decision on TPS for Salvadorans after considering the possible consequences of mass deportations.

“The administration’s goal is to create an orderly and responsible process to repatriate Salvadorans and help them return home; however, a sudden inflow of 250,000 individuals to El Salvador could spark another mass migration to the U.S. and reinvigorate the crisis at the southern border,” the agency said in the statement. “Taking into account these concerns, we have decided to provide additional time to work out that plan. We cannot allow the progress the president has made the past several months to be negated.”

AD
AD

The agency said Salvadorans who have TPS protection would have their work permits extended through Jan. 4, 2021, and that the government is providing Salvadorans with TPS an additional year after the conclusion of the TPS-related lawsuits to repatriate back to their home country.

Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, disputed the U.S. ambassador’s description of the arrangement as a TPS extension.

“Some reporting has spoken of ‘extending TPS,’ ” Cuccinelli tweeted. “That has important legal meaning, and that’s not what happened w/the agreements. Rather, work permits for Salvadorans will be extended for 1 year past resolution of litigation for an orderly wind down period.”

AD

DHS framed the TPS decision as part of a larger collaborative security package the United States and El Salvador signed Monday in Washington.

AD

Under the new arrangement, DHS officials will deploy to El Salvador “to advise and mentor” their police and immigration counterparts, and El Salvador and the United States will “enhance cooperation to prevent and combat crime and other threats to public security through the expansion of biometric data collection and information sharing,” DHS officials said.

The U.S. government typically provides public justification for TPS extensions by explaining the conditions within a country that make it too dangerous for nationals to return, but the Trump administration offered no such explanation Monday.

AD

The Trump administration in September signed a separate deal with El Salvador that allows the U.S. government to divert asylum seekers from the southern border to El Salvador as part of a broader strategy to discourage would-be immigrants from seeking refuge in the United States.

AD

Immigrant rights advocates celebrated the reprieve from deportation but criticized what they saw as the administration’s leveraging the safety of hundreds of thousands of immigrants as part of a “trade” to keep new asylum seekers out of the United States.

“That is totally unacceptable,” Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA, an immigrant rights group, told reporters Monday.

Nick Miroff contributed to this report.

AD
AD