Mon. 3:45 p.m.: US ending special protections for Salvadoran immigrants

CASA de Maryland, an immigration advocacy and assistance organization, holds a rally in Lafayette Park, across from the White House in Washington, Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, in reaction to the announcement regarding Temporary Protective Status for people from El Salvador. The Trump administration is ending special protections for Salvadoran immigrants, forcing nearly 200,000 to leave the U.S. by September 2019 or face deportation. El Salvador is the fourth country whose citizens have lost Temporary Protected Status under President Donald Trump, and they have been, by far, the largest beneficiaries of the program, which provides humanitarian relief for foreigners whose countries are hit with natural disasters or other strife. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

CASA de Maryland, an immigration advocacy and assistance organization, holds a rally in Lafayette Park, across from the White House in Washington, Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, in reaction to the announcement regarding Temporary Protective Status for people from El Salvador. The Trump administration is ending special protections for Salvadoran immigrants, forcing nearly 200,000 to leave the U.S. by September 2019 or face deportation. El Salvador is the fourth country whose citizens have lost Temporary Protected Status under President Donald Trump, and they have been, by far, the largest beneficiaries of the program, which provides humanitarian relief for foreigners whose countries are hit with natural disasters or other strife. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration said today it is ending special protections for Salvadoran immigrants, an action that could force nearly 200,000 to leave the U.S. by September 2019 or face deportation.

El Salvador is the fourth country whose citizens have lost Temporary Protected Status under President Donald Trump. Salvadorans have been, by far, the largest beneficiaries of the program, which provides humanitarian relief for foreigners whose countries are hit with natural disasters or other strife.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s decision, while not surprising, will send shivers through parts of Washington, Los Angeles, New York, Houston and other metropolitan areas that are home to large numbers of Salvadorans. They have enjoyed special protection since earthquakes struck the Central American country in 2001, and many have established deep roots in the U.S., starting families and businesses.

The action also produces a serious challenge for El Salvador, a country of 6.2 million people whose economy counts on money sent by wage earners in the U.S. Over the past decade, growing numbers of Salvadorans — many coming as families or unaccompanied children — have entered the United States illegally through Mexico, fleeing violence and poverty.

In September 2016, the Obama administration extended protections for 18 months, saying El Salvador suffered lingering harm from the 2001 earthquakes that killed more than 1,000 people and was temporarily unable to absorb such a large number of returning people.

Homeland Security said more than 39,000 Salvadorans have returned home from the U.S. in two years, demonstrating El Salvador’s capacity to absorb people. It said the 18-month delay would give Congress time to develop a legislative change if it chooses, while also giving Salvadorans and their government time to prepare.

Democratic leaders and immigrant advocacy groups greeted the decision with resounding dismay, saying well-established families — many with U.S.-born children — will be separated and people will be forced to return to heavy violence in El Salvador.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called it “a heartbreaking blow to nearly a quarter of a million hard-working Salvadorans who are American in every way.” Rep. Bennie Thompson, ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, said it was “just the latest in a string of heartless, xenophobic actions from the Trump administration.”

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