The Trump administration has ended the immigration benefits for nearly 2,500 Nicaraguan nationals who are in the United States, but extended benefits for 57,000 Hondurans.
The Central American migrants were allowed to live and work in the U.S. under a program called Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
The Department of Homeland Security gave the Nicaraguans TPS recipients 12 months after the January 5 expiration of their protected status to arrange their affairs and either leave the country or obtain legal status through a different visa category.
The Nicaraguan and Honduran TPS recipients have been living in the U.S. under protected status since Hurricane Mitch killed 10,000 across Central America in 1998. That means many of them have been living in the United States for two decades.
Martha Irraheta, a Nicaragua native who arrived in the Miami area about 25 years ago and works as a cook at Islas del Caribe restaurant, said she fears having to return to her homeland. "I am very afraid. I don’t want to return to my country, with the violence the way it is – no way." She will have to leave behind a 22-year-old U.S.-born daughter who is a citizen.
Roger Castaño, U.S. representative of Nicaragua's Permanent Commission on Human Rights said the government in Managua cannot guarantee the safety of those who would be forced to return. "How is the United States going to deport or send back all those thousands of people?” he asks.
Another 195,000 Salvadorans and 46,000 Haitians are awaiting the decision on their fate, as DHS must decide in coming weeks what to do with TPS recipients from those countries whose legal residency will expire early next year. The TPS designation for Haitians expires on January 22, 2018, while that of the Salvadorans on March 9. Federal officials are required to announce 60 days before any TPS designation expires whether it will be extended.
These immigrants are among more than 320,000 from 10 nations who have time-limited permission to live and work in the U.S. under TPS because of war, hurricanes, earthquakes or other catastrophes in their home countries that could make it dangerous for them to return.
VOA’s Spanish Service and reporter Jose Pernalete in Miami contributed to this report.