White House to Extend U.S. Residency for Central Americans

The Bush administration has decided to extend special temporary U.S. residency for Central Americans for another 12 months, a spokeswoman for Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said Wednesday.

The decision means hundreds of thousands of Central Americans will not have to return home when their Temporary Protected Status ends next month.

Alex Cruz, a press aide to Ros-Lehtinen, said the administration plans to announce the decision officially on Friday, but Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., sent out a news release Wednesday after she was informed of the decision by the White House.

"We are just letting our community people know because there are so many folks who depend on TPS," Cruz said.

The U.S. provided temporary legal residence and authority to work in this country to Nicaraguans and Hondurans after Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and to Salvadorans following a devastating earthquake in 2001. That status has been renewed several times.

The residency was due to expire this year amid criticism that the program was never meant to be permanent.

Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Joanna Gonzalez and a White House spokesman declined comment because an official announcement had not been made.

But Central American leaders and several members of Congress have been pushing for a renewal. Immigrants and their advocates say allowing the special status to expire would devastate not only these individuals but also their families — and the Central American nations — who count on the billions of dollars the immigrants earn in the United States and send home.

Salvadoran President Tony Saca is scheduled to visit Washington Friday.

Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement that without a renewal of the special residency, the Central Americans would "face deportation back to a country where they may encounter violence, civil unrest or a homeland still recuperating from natural disasters."