After several Central American countries were hit hard by hurricanes Iota and Eta, the Department of Homeland Security has extended existing temporary protected status (TPS) for Honduras and given new protections to its nationals.

“The economic damage caused by both storms, and the blow from the pandemic, has caused the Honduran economy to be greatly affected,” Honduran Foreign Minister Lisandro Rosales said Dec. 4.

“Reconstruction comes from a sustainable social and economic rebuilding, and our compatriots here in the United States can (help) achieve that by supporting their families in Honduras,” said Rosales, according to CNN.

Over 44,000 Hondurans in the U.S. presently fall under TPS protection, which was set to expire in January. The status is meant to temporarily shield immigrants from scheduled deportation when there are adverse situations in their countries of origin. It is usually conferred after a natural disaster, an epidemic or social unrest that would cause extreme hardship for those forced to return. The designation allows those affected to work legally in the United States.

Temporary Protected Status was conferred on Honduran nationals after Hurricane Mitch destroyed large parts of the country in 1998, causing over $2 billion in damages. The status applied to Nicaraguan nationals as well. Some recipients have lived in the U.S. for decades.

Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala suffered significant damage from two category 4 hurricanes - Iota and Eta - last month. High winds and heavy rains caused floods, landslides, and major destruction to crops and infrastructure.

There is now danger of increased coronavirus spread for the tens of thousands who fled to crowded government shelters. Extreme poverty is expected to follow, CNN reports.

Nicaraguan nationals also gained extended protections from the Department of Homeland Security, while the Guatemalan government has asked for protections for its citizens.

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández and other leaders visited the U.S. to request the policy changes for Hondurans.

Hernández said extending TPS would allow Hondurans affected by the disasters to take refuge in the U.S. and avoid burdening the country's recovery by increasing returnees or reducing the flow of money from abroad.

“Imagine someone who lost everything, his house, his source of income, who feels hopeless and believes that there’s nothing left for him,” he told the Washington Post Dec. 4. “And then he has a relative (in the United States) who says: ‘Come here.’”

Hernandez said the storms “collapsed” the agriculture industry in the Sula Valley, making Honduras even more dependent on remittances sent home from nationals living abroad.

The return of Hondurans to their country would have a “double negative effect,” he said.

“The United States would lose a labor force and a very important tax contribution, but also in Honduras we would see the impact of their not being able to send remittances.”

Hernandez and other leading Honduran officials visited Washington last week seeking assistance packages from the World Bank and the U.S. government, among others. Both Honduras and Guatemala are seeking assistance from the U.N. Green Climate Fund. Hernandez said the funds are “bureaucratic and difficult to access.”

Hernandez saw a link between severe hurricanes and climate change, arguing that this means wealthier countries with high greenhouse gas emissions have some responsibility.

Temporary protection status extensions were also granted this week to nationals of El Salvador, Haiti, Nepal, and Sudan.

The Trump administration has opposed extending the protected status on several previous occasions. Hundreds of thousands of migrants were scheduled to be expelled in March, Reuters reports.

In June 2020 the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops again asked Congress to advance a bill to help immigrants, including those with temporary protective status, gain a path to citizenship.

Such individuals are “essential to our communities, our Church and our country,” Bishop Mario Dorsonville, an auxiliary bishop of Washington and chair of the U.S. bishops' immigration committee, said June 4.

The lack of certainty that such migrants face is a particular stress during the coronavirus pandemic, he said, as many of them work in health care or other sectors that may expose them to the virus. Many temporary protection status holders and other immigrants are “on the front lines providing essential work for our country in health care, food supply, and transportation.”

Presumptive President-Elect Joe Biden has pledged that he will protect those enrolled in the temporary protection status program.