WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration will end special protections for an estimated 9,000 Nepalese immigrants living in the United States, giving them until June 24, 2019, to leave or find another way to stay in the country, the Department of Homeland Security said Thursday.
They were granted that status during the Obama administration after an April 2015 earthquake killed more than 8,000 people in Nepal, and it was extended for 18 months in October 2016.
But DHS said that after a review of conditions in the country, Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen concluded the protections were no longer warranted.
The "disruption of living conditions in Nepal from the April 2015 earthquake and subsequent aftershocks that served as the basis for its TPS designation have decreased to a degree that they should no longer be regarded as substantial," DHS said.
The U.S. created Temporary Protected Status in 1990 to provide a safe haven for citizens of countries affected by war and natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods and hurricanes. The status currently shields several hundred thousand people from 10 countries. It generally includes authorization to work.
The decision on Nepal probably will be felt most acutely in New York and the Dallas-Fort Worth area, which had the largest Nepalese immigrant communities in the United States in 2015 with 9,000 each, according to the Pew Research Center. Washington, San Francisco, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio, also have large communities.
They include Maya Gurung, 25, who came to the U.S. in 2011 to study international affairs at Skidmore College. She graduated in 2015, just after the earthquake, and has been a TPS holder since it became available.
Gurung, who works with the Nepali community in New York as a part of Adhikaar, a nonprofit organization, said the decision was "sad news" for her and fellow immigrants. She said she would have to go back home if the decision isn't reversed because she doesn't want to be in the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant, but neither she nor her parents wanted her to.
"They want me to be here and be safe," she said of her parents, who still live in Kathmandu. "They think it's still not safe for us to return back."
Since taking office, Trump has ended special protections for citizens of several countries, including El Salvador, Nicaragua and Haiti after determining that once-perilous conditions no longer preclude citizens from returning home.
Nielsen faces an early May deadline on whether to extend protections for an estimated 57,000 Hondurans living in the United States. Last year, the administration put a final decision on Honduras on hold.
The decision on Nepal was met with anger from immigration activist, including Amanda Baran of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.
"This White House has yet again turned its back on vulnerable people that our nation pledged to protect," she said in a statement, adding that: "Terminating TPS for our Nepali brothers and sisters and forcing their return to a country still recovering from a devastating earthquake is unfounded and heartless."
Associated Press writer Deepti Hajela in New York contributed to this report. Spagat reported from San Diego.
Follow Spagat and Colvin on Twitter at https://twitter.com/elliotspagat and https://twitter.com/colvinj
Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.