Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández on Thursday urged U.S. leaders to extend legal status to citizens of his country who live and work in the United States, and said transplants from Honduras are the "best" immigrants the U.S. could ask for.
"We recognize that it's a sovereign decision of the U.S., but we see also how troubled our compatriots are," Hernández told reporters at a diplomatic conference in Miami.
About 60,000 Hondurans benefit from a law granting "temporary protected status" in the United States. That permission, which was last granted in 1999, is set to expire in January. The Department of Homeland Security is reviewing whether conditions in Honduras and other TPS nations warrant an extension, or if the foreign nationals who benefit today should be sent back to their home countries.
"These are people who are the best immigrants that you can have in this country," Hernández said Thursday evening through a translator. "These are people who are working or paying their taxes and we hope that when the time comes, they follow this process in the U.S., that we will have the opportunity to have a renewal of the TPS or some way to have our countrymen continue to live in this country."
That comment seemed aimed at distinguishing from Honduran immigrants and those from other countries that President Trump has criticized as something other than "their best."
"The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else's problems," Trump said. "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best."
TPS beneficiaries who work in the United States sent about $4 billion back to Honduras in 2016, according to the Honduran government. That equates to about one-fifth of the value of the nation's gross domestic product, which registered at $20.4 billion in 2015, according to the World Bank. That's significant money, particularly as U.S. officials urge Honduras to increase infrastructure spending in order to strengthen their economies and diminish the incentive for migrants to leave their home countries.
"Strong infrastructure – reliable roads, ports, and electrical grids – is a key component of strong economic growth," Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Thursday morning when he opened the Conference for Prosperity and Security in Central America. "Central America will welcome an estimated 25 million new urban dwellers over the next 30 years. As cities expand, they will need to provide basic additional services and infrastructure. The private sector should consider how to partner with the governments to address these needs."
Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has signaled his discomfort with extending the TPS designation. The law establishing the program is written with an eye towards people who cannot return to their home countries due to "ongoing armed conflict (such as civil war)" or "other extraordinary and temporary conditions," as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services puts it. Syria and South Sudan are among the most recent additions to the list. Honduras and Nicaragua have been on the list the longest.
"I go back to this issue of, the longer that people stay in the United States, the more of an argument they have that they have become Americanized and ‘why do I have to leave?'" Kelly told the Miami Herald in a June 1 story.
Kelly then decided to allow 60,000 Haitians who came to the United States following the 2010 earthquake to remain until January, but he urged them to make "necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure from the United States."
Tillerson acknowledged the Honduran president's appeal but noted that Kelly has the authority over that issue. "We will be talking about this and we will keep defending them because we know that these are people — it's not only that they are Hondurans, but these are human beings who have families," Hernandez said.