The Trump administration will end temporary legal immigration status for 200,000 Salvadorans who have been living in the U.S. for nearly two decades, the Department of Homeland Security announced Monday.
The decision means that Salvadorans who currently have Temporary Protected Status (TPS) must return to their homeland by September 2019 or become undocumented immigrants if they choose to remain without legal protections.
Salvadorans were first granted TPS in 2001 following a pair of devastating earthquakes that killed nearly 1,000 people and destroyed more than 100,000 homes in the Central American country.
Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama continued extending those protections every 18 months, arguing that the country had not fully recovered from those quakes and also suffered from raging drug cartel violence that made it impossible to return so many people to the unstable nation.
Ending TPS means that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has changed course and concluded that conditions in El Salvador have improved enough for the Salvadorans to return home.
The decision follows months of lobbying from El Salvador's government, a bipartisan group of members of Congress, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, all of which believe Washington should come up with a way to allow Salvadorans to remain in the country.
The Salvadoran Embassy in Washington estimates that 97% of Salvadorans on TPS over the age of 24 are employed and paying taxes, and more than half own their own homes. Salvadorans on TPS have also given birth to 192,000 children, all U.S. citizens, according to a report from the Center for Migration Studies.
The move is sure to please immigration groups advocating for lower levels of immigration who have argued that the TPS program, created by Congress in 1990, was always meant to be a short-term fix but has been abused by repeated extensions.
The administration has been phasing out temporary protected status granted by Republican and Democratic administrations to 437,000 people from 10 countries who have suffered from armed conflicts, earthquakes and other natural disasters, according to the Congressional Research Service.
In November, Homeland Security announced it was ending TPS for roughly 59,000 Haitians living legally in the U.S. since a powerful earthquake in 2010 decimated the country. They must return home by July 2019.
The department also eliminated TPS status for 5,300 Nicaraguans that was first granted in 1999 following the destruction left by Hurricane Mitch. They must leave by January 2019.
And while the department extended TPS for 86,000 Hondurans affected by Mitch for six more months, the administration indicated that they may ultimately be eliminated from the program.