Legalization by the Littles – Central American Division

By David North on May 6, 2010

Once upon a time – back in 1998 – there was a big wind, a really big wind, in Central America. It was called Hurricane Mitch, a category five storm.

People in the U.S. from Honduras, and to a lesser extent, Nicaragua, who were in the U.S. at the time, legally or illegally, who did not want to return to their storm-damaged countries were granted the right to stay legally in the U.S., and to work here on the grounds that those two countries, at least temporarily, were prevented from "adequately handling the return of [their] nationals." The government's term is Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

Mitch is still with us, in a way, because in his wake the U.S. government has just extended TPS to tens of thousands of Central Americans from its current expiration date, July 5, 2010, to January 5, 2012. That is an 18-month extension, something that USCIS has been doing repeatedly since the storm.

Mitch apparently was a bad hurricane because 12 years later USCIS still says that the countries it hit cannot handle the return of their countrymen; that includes 66,000 from Honduras and 3,000 from Nicaragua. If Honduras takes more than a dozen years to recover from a hurricane, how long will it take Haiti, a much poorer nation, to recover from its earthquake? TPS has been extended to Haitians who were in the U.S. on the date of its earthquake earlier this year.

The Central American TPS population, incidentally, is both aging and shrinking. Aging because only those who were here at the time of the storm are covered, so the age distribution is not from, say, 0 to 100, it is from 12 to 100.

As to shrinking, four years ago, when there was an earlier extension of TPS status, USCIS estimated the size of the Honduran population as 75,000 (not the current 66,000) plus 4,000 from Nicaragua (not 3,000).

If enough time passes, and the agency continues its current pattern, the TPS population totals will shrink to zero.