Last week, the United States and Mexico cohosted the Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America in Miami. While the question of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) was not on the agenda, both Honduras and El Salvador took the opportunity to highlight the issue before U.S. officials.
TPS is set to expire on January 5 and March 9, 2018, for Honduras and El Salvador, respectively. At least 60 days before the expiration of a country's TPS designation or extension, the Secretary of Homeland Security, after consultation with appropriate government agencies, determines whether the conditions for the TPS designation continue to be met.
The U.S. delegation to the conference included Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, and Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly. Mexico was represented by Secretary of Foreign Affairs Luis Videgaray. The Northern Triangle countries (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) were represented by President Jimmy Morales, President Juan Orlando Hernandez, and Vice President Oscar Ortiz, respectively.
During a press conference on the first day of the event, the president of Honduras took the opportunity to express that his government had presented its position regarding the impending expiration of TPS:
So I also must say that today both verbally and in writing we expressed our position about the Hondurans who have benefited from TPS, from a Temporary Protection Status, and it's something that's — we recognize that it's a sovereign decision of the U.S., but we see also how troubled our compatriots are. We can say that actually these are people who are the best immigrants you can have in this country. These are people who are working, who are paying their taxes, and we hope that when the time comes when they follow this process in the U.S., that we will have the opportunity to have a renewal of the Temporary Protection Status or some way to have our countrymen continue to live in this country.
But we will be talking about this, and we will keep defending them because we know that these are people — it's not only that they are Hondurans, but these are human beings who have families.
In response, Secretary Tillerson said,
The authority for extension of protective status rests with the Department of Homeland Security, and Secretary Kelly has that authority to make decisions. Having said that, the State Department does provide input of our own when the Secretary comes to that decision, and it is country by country. It is very specific to the circumstances for each country that Secretary Kelly has to take into consideration. So I don't want to in any way speak for him since he has that authority.
Following the Secretary's statements the vice president of El Salvador was asked if his government had made a similar petition for TPS renewal, to which he responded,
[I]n a meeting today with Vice President Pence, we addressed issues more broadly of interest in our agenda and our concern for our own citizens with TPS status. There are a good number of Salvadorans who fall within that program, the TPS program. What we did raise was a need to — the need to have time to act quickly. And the spirit of this meeting is in that view as well. We need to have time to work, but to be able to work quickly.
And TPSers, as they are known, are a key factor in being able to build a joint strategy that would meet our shared interests and avoid a short-term negative impact in the Northern Triangle region. No definitive approach has been reviewed in today's meetings, but as the president of Honduras has said, as well as has been said by the president of Guatemala this morning when we spoke of this, we will continue working toward these goals because these hardworking people have been making great contributions to the United States, and we hope that they continue to enjoy that opportunity.
However, that is as far as we got. We've reached no conclusions, and this is an issue that we will have to continue working on. ... This was an issue that was addressed only marginally and not as specifically as the others that we have underscored as priorities of infrastructure, economic investment, and security.
Honduras first received TPS designation on January 5, 1999, on environmental disaster grounds as a result of Hurricane Mitch. El Salvador was also designated for TPS on environmental disaster grounds on March 9, 2001, after a series of earthquakes that occurred in the country. Currently, there are approximately 57,000 Honduras TPS beneficiaries and 195,000 El Salvador beneficiaries.
On the second day of the conference, Secretary Kelly was asked about the appropriateness of extending TPS for the Central American countries. Secretary Kelly answered:
The conference body did not include any discussion on TPS. Although it would certainly be a factor in what we're trying to do, what we're all trying to do in the region. But I did have offline bilateral discussions with all of the three countries in the northern tier about TPS. And over time we will work together on some resolution.
Without any clear indication as to whether or not TPS will be renewed for either country, it is possible that Secretary Kelly will provide a six-month extension rather than the usual 18-month extension (a designation may be extended for an additional period of six, 12, or 18 months), as was done with Haiti. However, the push for a longer extension, or even potential demands for legal permanent resident (LPR) status, may be stronger given the amount of time Honduran and Salvadoran beneficiaries have spent in the United States, and the larger number of beneficiaries (particularly from El Salvador), in comparison to Haitian beneficiaries.