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Central Americans worry Trump may not renew their temporary stays

ocal residents pass by a grafitti made by the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-19) gang in the MS-13-controlled El Bosque neighborhood in Tegucigalpa, on May 9, 2017.
The territorial fight beweeen both rival gangs keeps the neighbors terrified. / AFP PHOTO / ORLANDO SIERRA / TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY NOE LEIVA        (Photo credit should read ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)
FILE: Residents pass by a grafitti made by the Mara Salvatrucha gang in the MS-13-controlled El Bosque neighborhood in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on May 9, 2017. Many Hondurans in the U.S. who live and work here legally under temporary status worry they will need to return to their homeland.

The Trump administration is expected to soon announce the fate of about 86,000 Hondurans and 5,000 Nicaraguans under a program that allowed them to temporarily live and work in the U.S. following disasters in their home countries.

Their permissions to reside in the country under what is called temporary protected status, or TPS,  expires in early January.

TPS is granted to immigrants from a handful of nations that were affected by crises like natural disasters or wars. The protection is typically renewed every 18 months and some status holders have been in the U.S. for many years.

Federal officials must review each group's situation and announce the next renewal at least 60 days before the expiration date. For Hondurans and Nicaraguans with TPS, that announcement should come by early November. 

This time, many of the TPS holders are worried they will not get the typical 18-month renewal and that their protection could be discontinued altogether.

“We’re worried that they may not renew it, that we will lose our jobs," said Vilma Mesa, 57, a Honduran immigrant from South L.A. who has had her temporary status since 2000.

Mesa was living in the U.S. illegally when Hurricane Mitch devastated her native Honduras in 1998. Two years later she was allowed to stay and work legally under the temporary status.

Hondurans make up the second-largest group of TPS holders in the United States. El Salvadorans are by far the largest group, numbering more than 260,000, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The Pew Research Center estimates about 35,000 foreign-born Honduran immigrants live in the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim metropolitan area.

Cecilia Rodriguez with the Alianza Hondureña de Los Angeles, a Honduran community group, believes that as many as 25,000 Hondurans in Southern California could be TPS holders. She said the Hondurans are especially worried because, earlier this year, the Trump administration gave Haitian TPS holders a renewal of only six months, or until Jan. 22, and suggested they start preparing to leave.

"That is the fear that we have," said Rodriguez, a legal U.S. resident who once had temporary status herself. "We have heard the news about the Haitians, and about the Dreamers also. We never thought they would take it [their protection] away from them." 

Rodriguez and other local Hondurans said one of their biggest concerns is returning to a country that they describe as plagued by violent crime, which has pushed new migrants to flee north.

Critics of the program, however, say TPS holders were never meant to stay long-term.

“They basically won the lottery because they were illegally in the United States at the right time," said Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C., a think tank that advocates for restricted immigration. 

"What the advocates wanting to keep TPS are saying is, 'We won the lottery and you can't take it away from us,' and the T in TPS is meaningless," Krikorian said.

But, he added, given that some people have been working here legally with TPS for a couple of decades, there could be a case made for Congress to come up with a permanent solution.

Mesa said the temporary status has permitted her to work legally at a local discount store. Most importantly, TPS allowed her to return home temporarily when she needed to, she said.

Mesa said before her daughter died in 2014, she was able to travel to Honduras to be at her bedside for three months. She later returned to the U.S. legally.

"Unfortunately, she died," Mesa said. "But I was able to be with her during the three months she was in agony, thanks to TPS."