Jan. 8 (UPI) -- The Trump administration on Monday announced it's ending temporary protected status for nearly 200,000 Salvadorans who fled their earthquake-ravaged country years ago.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced the end of the program, but said the department will delay its termination for 18 months.
"The decision to terminate TPS for El Salvador was made after a review of the disaster-related conditions upon which the country's original designation was based and an assessment of whether those originating conditions continue to exist as required by statute," the department said in a statement.
The Trump administration faced a Monday deadline to decide whether to renew the program, which was created to let refugees migrate to the United States after earthquakes devastated El Salvador in 2001.
"Based on careful consideration of available information, including recommendations received as part of an inter-agency consultation process, the Secretary determined that the original conditions caused by the 2001 earthquakes no longer exist," the department said in its announcement.
The DHS said the United States sent more than 39,000 individuals back to El Salvador in the last two years, which demonstrates "the temporary inability of El Salvador to adequately return their nationals after the earthquake has been addressed."
The 18-month delay was allowed to allow Congress time to "craft a potential legislative solution" to address the lack of an enduring immigration status for those protected by TPS.
The administration has already ended similar relief programs for immigrants from Haiti and Nicaragua. However, Salvadorans are the largest group with temporary protected status, and the effects would be felt nationwide in cities like Los Angeles and Washington.
"We have thousands of residents from El Salvador who have lived here legally for years - residents who contribute to our economy, attend our schools and universities, and help us build safer, stronger neighborhoods," D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser wrote in a letter to Trump before the decision was announced.
"Ending TPS for El Salvador will have devastating impacts by tearing families apart."
Rep. Jimmy Panetta of California also took to Twitter to ask Trump to renew the program.
"They own businesses & homes and pay taxes. W/o them, US would lose billions from GDP, Social Sec & Medicare, and employers would pay millions in turnover costs. We are all relying on you to #SaveTPS," Panetta tweeted.
Former President Barack Obama renewed the program in September 2016, which can only be renewed in 18-month increments.
Although the Salvadoran immigrants were supposed to remain in the United States temporarily, many have since been fully vetted, fingerprinted and incorporated into American society by paying taxes and creating businesses.
"I consider this my country," migrant Oscar Cortez said.
"Behind us there are children and wives and nephews and nieces and mothers and fathers who depend on us. It doesn't affect one person. It affects a ton of people."