WASHINGTON – Florida lawmakers criticized a Trump administration move to end Temporary Protected Status for Nicaraguans, a move that could foreshadow the removal of tens of thousands of other immigrants from the country.
"I am deeply pained by and strongly disagree with the decision to phase out the Temporary Protected Status for Nicaraguan nationals living in the United States," Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, said in a statement Tuesday.
"They are hardworking individuals who have substantial roots in this country and have made contributions to our society and local economies," he said.
The decision, announced Monday night, affects about 2,500 people, largely victims of Hurricane Mitch in 1998. But the administration extended their protected status for another year.
It also left in place protections for some 57,000 Hondurans.
Now a struggle is under way for 200,000 Salvadorans and 50,000 Haitians, who could lose TPS by early 2018.
The Trump administration has followed a generally tough line on immigration and some want to see the protections end, saying they were never meant to be permanent.
In Florida, though, the cases have drawn bipartisan sympathy. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami, has sponsored legislation to grant legal permanent resident status to Nicaraguan, Salvadoran, Honduran and Haitian immigrants.
"While hoping and waiting they would be able to return to their native countries for years, Nicaraguan, Salvadoran, Honduran and Haitian immigrants have become essential parts of the South Florida community by contributing to our local economy and our culture," Curbelo said.
"While I'm disappointed in the Administration's announcement, these continued short-term extensions have created anxiety and uncertainty not only for these immigrants and their families, but also for their employers and neighbors whose prosperity also depends on them. Congress has an opportunity to change that, and I'm grateful the Administration has called for a permanent solution from Congress."
Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, has legislation focused on Haitians, whose country has been rocked by by the 2010 earthquake.
"Haiti is enmeshed in a long and extremely challenging process of rebuilding its infrastructure and economy," she said. "While it is impossible to predict how long that will take, there is no question that the country is in absolutely no position to absorb and aid tens of thousands of people forced to return to Haiti."