The President Donald Trump-led administration has decided to cancel permits that allow nearly 200,000 people from El Salvador to live and work in the US.
It is understood that the Salvadorean immigrants had been granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) since earthquakes struck the Central American country in 2001, with many starting families and businesses in their adopted home.
But Salvadoreans now have to leave before September 2019 or face deportation, unless they find a legal way to stay in the US, the Department of Homeland Security announced on Monday.
“The original conditions caused by the 2001 earthquakes no longer exist,” the agency said.
“Thus, under the applicable statute, the current TPS designation must be terminated.”
But House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called the decision “a heartbreaking blow to nearly a quarter of a million hard-working Salvadorans who are American in every way”.
Bennie Thompson, ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, said it was “just the latest in a string of heartless, xenophobic actions from the Trump administration”.
El Salvador’s top diplomat, Foreign Minister Hugo Martinez, said Monday’s decision showed a need for Congress to act before September 2019.
“We are convinced we can get legislation in the US Congress before that date,” he said.
El Salvador is the fourth country whose citizens have lost TPS under President Donald Trump after Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan.
The Trump administration has already removed TPS protection from tens of thousands of Haitians and Nicaraguans.
The latest announcement comes four months after the government said it planned to scrap an Obama-era scheme, Daca (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), that protected young undocumented immigrants, mostly Latin Americans, from deportation.
Lawmakers in Congress have been given until March to decide on the fate of the 800,000 so-called Dreamers affected by the Daca decision.