- The Washington Times - Friday, July 5, 2002

The Immigration and Naturalization Service said this week that as many as 77,000 Honduran and Nicaraguan refugees from 1998's Hurricane Mitch did not renew their temporary protected status (TPS) before a July 2 deadline.
"The deadline won't be extended, so they do face deportation now," Bill Strassberger, INS spokesman, told The Washington Times.
"If the past is any indication, that doesn't mean much," said Mark Krikorian, director of the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies. "We do not know of a single person expelled for not renewing TPS. It's never happened."
The TPS program, which allows aliens to legally enter the United States and find employment temporarily, was established under the Immigration Act of 1990.
"We don't have the stomach to deport people, but we are afraid to grant amnesty to illegal aliens," Mr. Krikorian said. "So we settle for this half-measure."
After Hurricane Mitch ravaged Central America in 1998, destroying more than 70 percent of the Honduran and Nicaraguan gross domestic product, the U.S. government offered to accommodate refugees from the two nations under TPS as part of an aid package.
More than 100,000 Hondurans and 5,000 Nicaraguans initially signed up in December 1998, renewing their status ever since.
But only 10,000 of them had signed up for the latest 12-month extension of the program 10 days before the deadline, and a little more than 28,000 had signed up by June 28.
Mr. Strassberger said that last-minute registrations which could have been postmarked on July 2 at the latest were not yet tallied before the holiday and may boost that final number.
Representatives of the Honduran and Nicaraguan governments said June 21 that there is no way to track how many illegal aliens would remain in the United States after the deadline, but that no reason exists for them to go home.
"We could not find jobs for them," said an attache at the Honduran Embassy, adding that several thousand Hondurans remain in shelters because of subsequent natural disasters.
Mr. Krikorian said the refugees have little to fear by remaining in the United States.
"Being an illegal in the United States is an easy thing," he said. "If you're not committing any crimes, there's almost no penalty."
But he expressed concern over the INS' inability or unwillingness to enforce the law and what that meant for the war on terrorism.
"Any system that allows Mexican busboys to slip in can allow al Qaeda to slip in," he said.

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