Fewer than two-thirds of eligible Salvadorans have applied to renew their temporary protected status ahead of Monday’s deadline, the Salvadoran government said this week, raising concerns that thousands might miss their last chance to remain in the United States legally under the Trump administration.
El Salvador’s government said the U.S. Embassy informed it this week that about 125,000 of an estimated 195,000 Salvadorans have applied to renew their protected status, which will allow them to work and live legally in the United States for 18 months before the program expires in September 2019.
Officials urged the remaining 70,000 people to apply immediately so they can continue to support their families in the United States and El Salvador. Maintaining their immigration status would also help them apply for legal residency if Congress were to pass a bill allowing that, they said.
“I want to call on those who have not yet applied to do it,” Foreign Minister Hugo Martínez said in Spanish on Facebook. “By re-enrolling in TPS, you’ll have stability for 18 more months.”
As part of its national push to restrict immigration, the Trump administration is ending protected status for Salvadorans and thousands of other immigrants from Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan.
Salvadorans, who have held protected status for nearly 20 years, are the largest group by far.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said Friday that the agency expects the registration numbers to increase before Monday’s deadline, which also applies to Haitians.
“Historical trends show that the agency receives the highest influx of re-registration applications at the end of the filing period,” spokeswoman Joanne Ferreira said in a statement. “Due to the high volume of TPS El Salvador re-registrations being received, the agency is still processing a significant amount of applications at this time.”
Salvadoran officials said their consulates in the United States planned to work through the weekend to help file applications.
Some TPS holders might not renew because they have found legal status through marriage. Others might have moved home, died or become ineligible because of criminal convictions.
Some Salvadorans have expressed fear of renewing, officials said, worried that doing so would put them on the Trump administration’s radar to be deported after their permits expire. Others say they cannot afford the nearly $500 renewal fee.
“We’ve had cases of people who . . . say, ‘I’m afraid.’ But we tell them it’s important to do this,” said Erika Arévalo, consul general of El Salvador in Woodbridge, Va.
A spokesman for the Salvadoran Embassy said a bank in El Salvador is offering loans for those who cannot afford the application fees.
Congress created TPS in 1990 to offer temporary humanitarian relief to citizens of countries torn by war, natural disasters or other severe conditions. President George W. Bush granted TPS to Salvadorans in 2001 after a pair of earthquakes devastated parts of their country. Many had come to the United States illegally or overstayed their visas, and the money they sent home helped the nation rebuild.
Salvadoran immigrants sent home a record $4.5 billion in 2016, equivalent to what officials say is 17.1 percent of the Central American nation’s gross domestic product. The Salvadoran government said it will continue to lobby Congress and the White House to let the immigrants stay permanently.
The largest number of Salvadoran TPS recipients live in the Washington area, followed by Los Angeles, New York and Houston.
Many are fearful of returning to a nation with high poverty rates and one of the highest murder rates in the world, fueled in part by a rampant gang problem.
Advocates have filed lawsuits over the Trump administration’s efforts to end TPS. The Salvadoran government says TPS holders from that country are parents to an estimated 190,000 children who are U.S. citizens.