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Termination Of TPS Has Some In Local Honduran Community Considering Staying As Undocumented Immigrants

With the government’s decision to end their protected status by 2020, Hondurans living in Houston weigh their options to avoid going back to one of the most dangerous countries in the world

Photo courtesy of Center of Central American Resources, CRECEN
Supporters of the TPS for Honduras and other Latin American countries rallied in Houston on May 1, 2018.

The termination of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Honduran nationals has caused angst and uncertainty among the Houston Honduran community, with some of them willing to live as undocumented immigrants just to stay in the United States.

“(Honduran) people are not thinking of going back,” says Manuel Valladares, who leads Hondureños Unidos de Texas (United Hondurans of Texas), a grassroots group that helps immigrants from Honduras who live in the state.

Valladares is a U.S. permanent resident. However, he knows the situation of many TPS recipients well because of the work he does through his organization. According to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, there are around 6,000 Hondurans in the Greater Houston area who are TPS recipients.

“They will do the impossible to stay and find a solution,” he emphasizes, and they still have a hope that the federal government might provide some kind of “relief” to TPS recipients, allowing them to stay in the U.S.


Window of opportunity

The silver lining of an otherwise tough decision, says Valladares, is that the TPS for Honduras will still be valid until January of 2020, which gives that community some time to weigh their options.

In its May 4th announcement to terminate the protected status for Hondurans in the U.S., the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) noted that the conditions that resulted from Hurricane Mitch –which is the reason why the status was established— “have notably improved.”

“Obviously, the conditions were going to improve considerably”, says Jaime Espinosa, a 55 year-old Honduran and a TPS recipient who has lived in Houston since 1996. “It wasn’t possible that the (Honduran) government kept destroyed streets, destroyed roads, the buildings collapsed…”

Espinosa, who owns a furniture store in Houston, argues that the federal government's argument to end the TPS doesn't have a solid foundation, and laments that “regardless of Hurricane Mitch, there are other social phenomena that Honduras is going through” such as drug trafficking and organized crime, along with “corruption” and “impunity.”

For TPS recipients who have already made a life in the U.S. by raising a family and starting a business –like Espinosa— the termination of the status feels “horrible.”

So, what’s the plan? Espinosa acknowledges that at this moment he doesn't have one. He has an American citizen 17 year-old son and one of the options he is considering is to have his son eventually filing an immigration petition for him and his wife, also a TPS recipient.

Then again, even if Espinosa's son filed the petition, he would have to wait until turning 21 years-old and, considering the TPS will be terminated in January of 2020, there would be a period of time between the termination of the status and the moment when Espinosa’s son would be legally entitled to petition his parents.

In that scenario, Espinosa says he might be willing to stay in Houston living as an undocumented immigrant.

Low profile

“We are considering it,” asserts Espinosa, who adds that if he did that he would keep a “low profile.” But, like others, Espinosa still hopes there is a possibility that the Congress would pass a law allowing TPS recipients to stay.

Ismael Andino, another TPS recipient from Honduras living in Houston, is also weighing staying undocumented in the U.S. once the status is fully terminated.

Andino, who has lived in the U.S. since 1998 and works as a network technician, says staying as an undocumented immigrant is certainly not his plan A, but he can't rule it out because he deems that returning to Honduras is not “viable at all” due to the high levels of crime.

“I prefer to live here illegally in this country over living legally but fearful for the life of my family in Honduras,” says Andino, who is married with three U.S.-born children: A 9 year-old girl and two 8 year-old twins.

Andino is convinced that he and his family would be in danger in Honduras because local criminals would know he had lived in the U.S. for many years and would assume he has financial means. “What worries me the most is the criminality,” he says, “if they think that I have lived for almost twenty years here in this country, the first thing that is going to cross their mind is: ‘Oh, this one brings a lot of money. Let’s see how we kidnap one of his children’.”

Andino will consult with an immigration attorney to find out whether he has any chance to stay in the U.S. He thinks getting a visa sponsored by the company he works for could be an option, but he acknowledges it could be a long shot.

The U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security underscored the high level of criminality in its ‘Honduras 2017 Crime & Safety Report.' The report highlighted that the Honduran government “lacks the resources to fully address crime and violence” and added there are no areas in major urban cities that are deemed free of violent crime.

Citing data compiled by the National Violence Observatory, an academic research institution that is part of Honduras' National Public University, the report also notes that the Central American country has had one of the highest murder rates in the world since 2010. It also touches on the gang factor and indicates there are an estimated 7,000 street gang members, with the 18th Street and MS-13 (also known as the Mara Salvatrucha) being “the most active and powerful” gangs. The report details these gangs specialize in murder for hire, extortion and carjacking.

Silvia Mintz, a seasoned immigration attorney that works in Houston, says petitions filed by U.S.-born children of TPS recipients can be a doable alternative in some cases, but adds that some of these immigrants should restart immigration applications, for instance petitions from relatives who are American citizens, that they may have initiated years ago.

“They left those petitions on the back of their mind because they were feeling secure with the TPS, but now is the time to go and revisit those petitions,” says Mintz.

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