The Department of Homeland Security announced Thursday that it will end the humanitarian protection known as Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Nepal with a delay of 12 months to "allow for an orderly transition."
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An immigrant advocacy group said the White House was turning its back on "vulnerable people."
There are roughly 9,000 people from Nepal living in the United States with TPS - a federal program used to allow people to remain in the U.S. and work if they are unable to safely return to their home countries due to armed conflict, environmental disasters or other extreme circumstances.
DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who is responsible for making the final decision on whether to extend or terminate these programs, wrote that the department had determined that "since the 2015 earthquake, conditions in Nepal have notably improved."
"Additionally, since the last review of the country’s conditions in October 2016, Nepal has made substantial progress in post-earthquake recovery and reconstruction," she said in a statement.
The decision to terminate TPS for Nepal was based on whether the "originating conditions continue to exist." In this case, the conditions that prompted the original designation was the April 25, 2015 earthquake left approximately 9,000 people dead, 22,000 injured and 755,000 homes significantly damaged or destroyed.
Roughly 25 to 33 percent of Nepal’s population - eight million people - were affected by the earthquake three years ago.
Nielsen concluded that the disruption of living conditions stemming from the earthquake "have decreased to a degree that they should no longer be regarded as substantial, and Nepal can now adequately manage the return of its nationals."
The announcement comes after DHS also moved to terminate status for El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan – an estimated 300,000 people or more who will either need to leave the U.S. or face residing illegally, unless Congress passes legislation.
The deadline to make a determination for Honduras is next week.
Many TPS holders have been in the U.S. for years, even decades, like Pema Lama, who arrived in New York City in 1994, leaving her children – ages 4 and 6 – in Nepal.
Lama told ABC News that the humanitarian protection allowed her to travel to Nepal this year and "touch my kids and celebrate my daughter's birthday after 24 years."
While TPS does not offer a pathway to citizenship, it does allow many people to obtain work authorization and in some cases get authorization to travel internationally and return to the U.S.
"It was really devastating. I don't know how to react. I don’t know how to tell my kids," she said Thursday of the administration's decision.
Advocates and beneficiaries have argued for an extension, arguing that Nepal has not fully recovered from the devastating earthquake.
"This White House has yet again turned its back on vulnerable people that our nation pledged to protect. Terminating TPS for our Nepali brothers and sisters and forcing their return to a country still recovering from a devastating earthquake is unfounded and heartless," said Amanda Baran, consultant to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center in response to the decision.
A recent Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. (CLINIC) report found that safe return of Nepali TPS holders and their families remains impossible at this time due to the severe lack of adequate shelter, food, water, healthcare, education and jobs as well as other risks.
“It is critical for the TPS designation for Nepal to be extended, in light of the slow pace and numerous obstacles to reconstruction and recovery from the 2015 earthquake,” said Jennifer Ruddle, CLINIC staff attorney.
When Lama visited Nepal in March, she says she witnessed the country "still struggling" with clean water and air.