Deportation Looms for 9,000 Nepali Immigrants Displaced by Devastating Earthquake

The Trump administration’s decision to revoke the temporary protected immigration status of immigrants from Nepal will take effect this June, leaving roughly 9,000 Nepali immigrants in the US facing deportation and an end to their ability to support relatives in Nepal through remittances.

Rajesh, a Nepali immigrant who has been working in the US under temporary protected status and sending money back to Nepal for the last few years to support two girls, told Truthout that his house in Nepal was damaged as a result of the earthquake.

“I was injured [in the earthquake] and my house is still damaged,” Rajesh told Truthout, asking that his last name not be used for fear of being targeted. “It’s very difficult to find a job there. There are so many people there with problems.”

On April 26, Nepal became the fifth country to have its citizens lose their temporary protected status (TPS) in the United States when it was terminated by the Trump administration. Temporary protected status is a federal program established under the Immigration Act of 1990. It allows people to stay in the United States and work if they’re unable to return to their country safely as a result of an armed conflict, natural disaster or other temporary conditions.

The Obama administration designated Nepal for temporary protected status in June 2015, two months after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit the country, killing 9,000 people, leaving almost 22,000 injured and destroying over half a million homes. The temporary immigration status had been extended a number of times since the decision. In terminating temporary protected status for Nepal, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen declared that the country had recuperated over the last few years.

“Since the 2015 earthquake, conditions in Nepal have notably improved,” said Nielsen. “Additionally, since the last review of the country’s conditions in October 2016, Nepal has made substantial progress in post-earthquake recovery and reconstruction.”

Nielsen’s analysis contradicts a number of studies, including a progress report recently put out by Nepal’s government.

According to a New York Times story from May 10, Nielsen recently almost quit after Trump berated her about migrants during a meeting.

“Why don’t you have solutions?” Trump reportedly demanded of her. “We need to shut it down. We’re closed.”

Has Nepal Really Recovered?

Many immigration advocates disagree with Nielsen’s assessment. Prarthana Gurung is the campaigns and communications manager of Adhikaar, a women-led worker center that serves the Nepali-speaking immigrant community in New York City, where most Nepali immigrants are based.

“We know that Nepal is still recovering,” Gurung told Truthout, “and we know that Nepal is not ready to take back these people.”

Gurung pointed to a recent report by Catholic Legal Immigration Network, just a month before Nepal’s temporary protected status was revoked. “Rebuilding From Rubble: Why TPS is Needed for Nepal” details the slow pace of Nepal’s recovery and paints a picture of a country still experiencing a humanitarian crisis.

In September 2015, Nepal adopted its first democratic constitution, a document that angered some members of the country’s marginalized ethnic communities. The unrest led to violence and the chaos drastically delayed the earthquake recovery. Nepal received over $4.1 billion in international aid, but none of that money was distributed for a year. A full two years after the earthquake, only $330,000 of that money had been used and only 3.5 percent of the damaged or destroyed homes had been repaired. Although the distribution of these funds has improved since then, many say the payments haven’t been sufficient.

In August 2017, Nepal experienced yet another natural disaster after a third of the country was flooded due to unrelenting rain. According to UNICEF, 1.7 million Nepalis were impacted by the flooding, with 143 people killed and 461,000 displaced. Almost 65,000 houses were completely destroyed. More than half of Nepal’s water infrastructure had not been rebuilt as of February 2018, and access to clean water is getting worse in some areas. Seven-hundred thousand people were thrown into poverty as a result of the earthquake, and 36 percent of children are experiencing chronic malnutrition.

In April, the National Reconstruction Authority, the government agency that coordinates the country’s reconstruction projects, released a progress report on Nepal’s earthquake recovery. It found that 7,553 schools were damaged or destroyed as a result of the earthquake, but only 3,500 have been completely rebuilt so far. Some 1,197 health institutions were impacted, but only 586 have been completely reconstructed. While 709,180 households have signed up for a grant from the government to reconstruct their homes, only 90,059 of them have been able to completely rebuild, according to the report.

Not only would it be a challenge for Nepal’s economy to absorb 9,000 people, it could also dramatically impact the fate of many already living in the country. That’s because about 15 percent of Nepalis rely on remittances that are sent back to the country from family members working in the United States. Remittances make up about 30 percent of Nepal’s GDP, according to Austin Lord, a Ph.D. student of sociocultural anthropology at Cornell University.

Speaking with ABC in April, Lord said, “Remittance is probably the most effective and efficient way to support locally-driven and earthquake-safe reconstruction, as compared to institutionally managed programs that often require significant overhead and that do not adequately cover even half the average cost of construction.”

Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Agenda

The Trump administration’s cancellation of temporary protected status for Nepal comes amidst a number of other similar terminations. Just a few months before the Nepal decision, protection ended for Salvadorans, Nicaraguans, Sudanese and Haitians living in the US. In May, the Trump administration ended the status for Hondurans. Temporary protected status does not provide a path for permanent residency, which means that more than 300,000 people could become undocumented within the next year. These cancellations, coupled with the Trump administration’s aggressive immigration enforcement, could become a disaster for the country’s most vulnerable individuals.

“What we’re seeing here is clearly just a politicization of TPS,” said Lisa Parisio, an attorney for the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, shortly after the Trump decision. “The administration’s position is clear; it’s attempting to eradicate TPS for currently holding countries…. We find that unjustifiable given the conditions that are in Nepal today and that people cannot be safely returned.”