U.S. prolongs migration accord for disaster-hit countries

WASHINGTON/TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Washington has agreed to prolong a set of temporary migration protections that allow immigrants from six countries to live in the United States, officials said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez speaks during an interview with Reuters in New York City, U.S. September 24, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Ornitz/File Photo

The so-called Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for some citizens of El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, Sudan, Honduras and Nepal was extended by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) until at least October of 2021.

TPS allows some foreigners whose home countries experience a natural disaster, armed conflict or other extraordinary event to remain in the United States and apply for work permits. The status must be renewed periodically in six- to 18-month intervals by the secretary of homeland security.

TPS has been in the crosshairs of Republican President Donald Trump’s administration in recent months as it seeks to scale back humanitarian protections for hundreds of thousands of immigrants who were due to be expelled from the United States in early March after a wind-down period.

The extension is part of an agreement between the administration and plaintiffs in related lawsuits not to terminate the protections as the lawsuits filter through the U.S. court system.

Democratic President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to protect enrollees from being returned to unsafe countries.

The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez said the extension would cover some 44,000 of the storm-ravaged Central American country’s citizens living in the United States. He said he discussed the extension on a visit to Washington last week.

“In the United States, during the meeting with the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (Chad Wolf), they told us that the TPS that was going to end in January will be extended,” Hernandez said on national television.

Hondurans living in the United States have had access to TPS since the accord was brokered after Hurricane Mitch wreaked havoc on the impoverished Central American country in 1998.

Guatemala has also requested extended TPS protection for its citizens.

Reporting by Gustavo Palencia; additional reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington; writing by David Alire Garcia and Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Jonathan Oatis