Some 200,000 Salvadorean nationals who have been living in the United States for at least 17 years face the prospect of deportation after their special residency status was revoked on Monday.
President Donald Trump’s administration said it was cancelling Salvadoreans’ temporary protection status, which allowed them to come and live in the US after devastating earthquakes hit the Central American country in 2001.
Their protected status was renewed several times in following years.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirtjen Nielsen said she had concluded, “based on careful consideration of available information,” that conditions in El Salvador had improved, making an ongoing protected status no longer justified.
The Salvadorean citizens have until September 2019 to leave the US or find other legal means of remaining in the country.
The temporary protected status programme for Salvadorans is the fourth to be halted by the Trump administration in less than a year.
The Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank based in Washington, said that the Trump administration has now acted to end temporary protection for a combined 327,000 people from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan, all countries that have suffered major natural disasters or civil wars in recent decades.
Members of Congress from both parties condemned the decision.
Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a member of the president’s conservative Republican Party, said it was “unconscionable” for Trump to expel people who “have been here for years, working legally and sending remittances to their families.”
On Twitter, she called him “insensitive to the plight of so many who have contributed so much to our great nation.”
Ros-Lehtinen called for passage of bipartisan legislation introduced in November to allow people under temporary protected status to seek permanent residency. She is a co-sponsor.
“Congress must take action to protect those who are in our country under TPS … so these men and women can continue contributing to our nation and support their families,” she said.
Massachusetts Congressman Joe Kennedy III, a member of the left-leaning opposition Democrats, called for lawmakers to be a “shield” for vulnerable populations.
“Ending TPS for Salvadoran families living in our communities does not make us safer or stronger,” he tweeted.
The Homeland Security Department said the repatriation of more than 39,000 people to El Salvador in the last two years proved that the country’s “temporary inability” to bring citizens home was no longer valid.