For Belinda Osorio Hanzman, being forced to return to San Pedro Sula in Honduras would mean leaving behind her two US-born children.
It is a painful decision Hanzman, a 48-year-old hotel housekeeper living in Orlando, Florida, says she would make for the sake of her children’s futures.
She began to contemplate the fate of her mixed-status family after the US Department of Homeland Security recently announced it would defer a decision on whether to renew the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Honduras.
The department said it would extend it until next July as they deliberate.
As a TPS visa-holder, Hanzman is one of the thousands of Honduran immigrants now living in limbo in the United States.
“My oldest knows that if they eliminate TPS, I might have to leave,” she told Al Jazeera.
“I tell them that I will fight to stay here, but if I have to go, I will make the very difficult decision of returning without them because I can’t ruin their lives. In Honduras, they have no future.”
57,000 Hondurans with TPS
TPS is a form of temporary residency that provides US work visas to more than 300,000 immigrants from 10 countries where environmental disasters, ongoing armed conflicts or other circumstances have made it too dangerous for them to return home.
Immigrants from Honduras and Nicaragua were granted TPS in 1999 after Hurricane Mitch killed more than 10,000 people and severely damaged infrastructure in both countries.
Last Monday, the Donald Trump administration eliminated temporary legal residency and deportation relief for thousands of immigrants from Nicaragua, who will remain protected under the visa for another 14 months until the programme is officially terminated on January 5, 2019.
The administration temporarily extended TPS status to 57,000 Honduran immigrants, meanwhile, who will be able to stay in the US on TPS visas for an additional six months, until July 5.
Elaine Duke, the homeland security secretary, said the administration needed more time to determine whether to renew the visa for Hondurans.
“In the coming months, I will seek additional information and thoroughly review the country conditions of Honduras,” Duke wrote in the memo announcing the decision.
Hanzman first came to New York in 1991. She worked long hours at her factory jobs, often doing unpaid overtime, until she eventually resettled in Orlando, Florida. She secured TPS in 1999.
Now working as a unionised housekeeper, a position she has held for the duration of her visa, Hanzman said TPS changed her life.
“I was able to get a driver’s license, worker benefits and more importantly I felt more free. I was no longer afraid of being detained because I had permission to legally work in this country,” said Hanzman.
“I had TPS to protect me.”
She said returning with her family to San Pedro Sula, once considered the murder capital of the world, seems almost impossible.
While Honduras has a national average of 60 murders per 100,000 people, San Pedro Sula is considered one of its deadliest cities.
Organised crime groups commit murder, extortion and kidnap citizens and authorities alike, according to the state department.
Two hundred families were forced to leave the city earlier this year to flee gang warfare, Reuters reported.
“I wouldn’t dare take my 14-year-old son with me to Honduras,” Hanzman told Al Jazeera.
“Gangs recruit kids his age, and they harass and beat them if they refuse. I’m not going to expose my son to that. My daughter is only 10, and she is also a target.”
Originally from Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, Guisell Martinez Flores, 43, has had TPS for 18 years.
She came to the US with her family to work and save enough money to build a house in Honduras, but she said Hurricane Mitch eventually made it impossible for them to return.
Flores, who lives in Los Angeles and works as a janitor, called the Trump administration’s decision to extend its deliberation on TPS coverage for Hondurans cruel.
“This isn’t relief for us,” Flores said. “This is worse, because yes they have extended the programme, but they have also prolonged the anguish and uncertainty.”
Families fear separation
The government’s termination of TPS could result in the deportation of thousands of people and the separation of family members holding different immigration statuses.
According to a study by the Center for American Progress, Haitians, Salvadorans and Hondurans comprise the three largest TPS holders.
An estimated 195,000 Salvadorans currently have TPS, along with more than 57,000 Hondurans and 50,000 Haitians.
Haitian, Salvadoran and Honduran TPS holders have a total of 273,000 children who were born in the US and hold American citizenship, according to figures from earlier this year.
Luz Maldonado, 33, is a TPS holder and a mother of two children with US citizenship.
Now living in Glen Cove, Long Island, she arrived in the US from La Paz, Honduras, 14 years ago.
When she heard that TPS was extended last week, Maldonado said she felt helpless.
“If we don’t press for a pathway to regularise our status, we will be left with nothing, just like when we arrived,” she said.
“After all these years of working legally with permits, we are going to lose our jobs.”
Hanzman said she is also concerned about her 73-year-old mother. Her mother still lives in Honduras and relies on Hanzman to send her a monthly cheque from the US to pay for her diabetes treatment.
Seventy-seven percent of Honduran TPS holders that send remittances home, according to the Center for American Progress, and the World Bank estimates that those remittances account for 17.4 percent of Honduras’ gross domestic product (GDP).
“Without my help, and without my ability to work [in the US], my mother wouldn’t receive this consistent support,” Hanzman said.
A pathway to residency
Edwin Murillo, a member of the National TPS Alliance, an organisation led by TPS recipients and supported by unions and immigrants’ rights groups, has been actively lobbying Congress to provide immigrants with a pathway to permanent residency.
“Our goal is to stop the elimination of TPS and to get Congress to grant permanent residency to the thousands of people currently protected under the programme,” Murillo told Al Jazeera.
He said while the group was outraged by the DHS announcement, it was not a total surprise.
A week before the memo was published, Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, said the conditions in Haiti and Central America no longer justified the need for protection under TPS.
“We expected the announcement on Nicaragua and Honduras because they have been vocal about winding down the programme,” said Murillo.
“Frankly, we have very few friends in the [Trump] administration.”