Hundreds of people gathered in front of the U.S. embassy in the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa Saturday to protest Washington's decision to cancel the Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which granted protection status to nearly 60,000 Honduran immigrants.
The program protected nearly 56,000 Hondurans and offered respite to people fleeing violence in Central American and Caribbean countries for nearly two decades. TPS was established in 1999, a year after Hurricane Mitch devastated Honduras.
The protest follows the U.S. announcement on May 4, in which the Trump administration effectively terminated the program for Hondurans. According to the Center for Migration Studies, those under the TPS from Honduras have 53,500 U.S.-born children.
TPS had survived under several Republican and Democratic administrations, but the Trump administration claims the program has been abused and has allowed people to stay in the United States long after crisis conditions have ended in their home countries.
"Based on careful consideration of available information, including recommendations received as part of an inter-agency consultation process, the Secretary determined that the disruption of living conditions in Honduras from Hurricane Mitch that served as the basis for its TPS designation has decreased to a degree that it should no longer be regarded as substantial," Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen said in the announcement, "Thus, as required under the applicable statute, the current TPS designation must be terminated."
With a per capita income of US$5,500 per year and a minimum wage of just over US$1 an hour, Honduras is the second poorest country in the Americas. The two largest cities Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula recently ranked as two of the most violent places in the world.
Some 300 protesters walked in front of Palmerola, a U.S. military airbase and training center to demand the departure of the U.S. troops after the U.S. announced TPS cancellation for Hondurans.
The protest organized by the former President Manuel Zelaya, coordinator of the Alliance of Opposition Against Dictatorship, urged the right-wing government of Juan Orlando Hernandez to negotiate the TPS or permanent residence, in exchange for the continuation of the presence of U.S. troops at the base of Palmerola, located about 50 km north of the capital.
Manuel Zelaya called out the U.S. government, saying, "If there is no TPS, there won't be Palmerola base." Palmerola is a military base that houses nearly 600 U.S.troops. The base served as a Honduran air force base as well as a flight-training center.
"Juan Orlando must negotiate (with the United States) Palmerola, military treaties and trade agreements "in exchange for expanding the TPS or giving permanent residence to Hondurans," Zelaya told AFP during the protest.
The site was built between 1984 and 1985 by the United States, based on a bilateral military agreement of 1954 and in the framework of the offensive that it undertook against the revolutionary movements, in the east-west conflict in Central America.
Since the exit of U.S. bases from Panama in 1999, Palmerola serves as one of the important airfields available to the U.S. on Latin American soil. Located in the central department of Comayagua, the base is approximately 30 miles north of the capital Tegucigalpa.