The Trump administration will allow more than 250,000 people from El Salvador to remain in the United States under temporary status for at least one more year, the US and El Salvador governments announced Monday .
The move gives the tens of thousands of El Salvadorans who fall under temporary protected status -- a form of humanitarian relief -- some reprieve, although a judge had already blocked the Trump administration's move to terminate the protections.
"We are very happy to be able to announce that today in Washington, DC, we signed an agreement that extends TPS for El Salvadorans in the United States for another year," US Ambassador to El Salvador Ronald Johnson said in Spanish. "This is a recognition of the achievements and good work of the government of President Nayib Bukele."
The decision to extend protections comes on the heels of an agreement with El Salvador that could allow the US to send some asylum seekers to El Salvador to seek humanitarian protections there.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, the administration is extending the validity of work permits for El Salvadorans with protected status through January 4, 2021.
El Salvadorans with protected status will also have an additional year after the conclusion of the TPS-related lawsuits to repatriate back to their home country, the department said on Monday.
However, as a part of the litigation, the government already agreed to extend protections to multiple countries for nearly six months, according to Ahilan Arulanantham, senior counsel with the ACLU Southern California, a lawyer in the TPS cases.
The wind down would kick in if the court rules against the ACLU and allows the government's termination decisions to move ahead.
El Salvadoran Foreign Minister Alexandra Hill Tinoco heralded the decision at a news conference Monday, saying they would continue to work to find a permanent solution for those who fall under the temporary protections. But she was also pressed over acting US Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli's tweet that said the agreement didn't extend TPS but rather extended work permits.
Hill Tinoco acknowledged that "extending TPS" may not be the most favorable thing to say, given the political situation in the US, but added, in Spanish: "If our El Salvadorans maintain their legal status, they can keep working, they can keep driving, they keep paying taxes, what do you call that?"
Since taking office, President Donald Trump has pushed to curtail temporary protected status, arguing that repeated extensions betray the "temporary" piece of the status.
TPS applies to people in the United States who would face extreme hardship if forced to return to homelands devastated by armed conflict or natural disasters, and allows them to legally work in the US. A series of devastating earthquakes in El Salvador led to its designation in 2001.
There are more than 250,000 Salvadoran TPS beneficiaries, according to government statistics cited by the Congressional Research Service.
The Trump administration has moved to end TPS for many of the countries with the protection, including El Salvador, but courts have so far blocked those efforts. Late last year, a federal judge in California granted a preliminary injunction stopping the government from terminating TPS for immigrants from Sudan, El Salvador, Haiti and Nicaragua.
Since then, the administration has worked closely with El Salvador, along with other Central American countries, to strike agreements aimed at curbing the flow of asylum seekers to the United States.
Last month, the US and El Salvador signed an agreement, which aims to recognize and build El Salvador's asylum system. The deal was announced by acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and Hill Tinoco as a measure to curb illegal migration and increase security cooperation.
A change to temporary protected status for El Salvador was expected as part of the agreement.
At the signing ceremony, Hill Tinoco told reporters that the two countries "need to talk and look at permanent solutions for El Salvadorans living in the United States."
Advocates have been critical of the deal with El Salvador, arguing it threatens the safety of asylum seekers.
"The agreement is a farce and makes a mockery of the life-saving system of asylum," said Rev. John L. McCullough, president and CEO of Church World Service. "All people deserve a safe place to call home."
Kerri Talbot, director of federal advocacy at the Immigration Hub, said Monday that El Salvador doesn't have any "infrastructure whatsoever for dealing with asylum claims."
"The reality is that at this moment ... what we need is to find a permanent solution," said Jose Palma, national coordinator of the TPS Alliance and a TPS recipient.
"I think this is great, but again the conversation should continue and I think the urgency should continue to find something that is more permanent," he said, adding that it causes ongoing confusion.
In addition to the changes to protected status, the US and El Salvador struck two additional agreements. The countries agreed to deploy advisers from US Customs and Border Protection and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement to assist the El Salvadoran national police, as well as border security, immigration, and customs counterparts.
DHS and El Salvador will also expand biometric data collection and sharing.