MIAMI — Leaders from two Central American nations on Thursday asked Vice President Mike Pence to ensure that their citizens could remain in the United States as part of a work program that temporarily authorizes their residency. Neither the vice president nor Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, who was also asked, committed to doing so.
The concerns voiced by the Honduran president, Juan Orlando Hernández, and the El Salvadoran vice president, Óscar Ortiz, were prompted by increased deportations under the Trump administration. A forced flood of Central American workers returning to their countries would abruptly curtail the wages they have been sending back home, which are a significant part of the region’s economy.
“These people are working and paying their taxes,” said Mr. Hernández, who said he raised the issue of the temporary program with Mr. Pence.
“We’re going to keep defending them because we know these people are not only Hondurans but they’re human beings,” Mr. Hernández added.
Mr. Pence and Mr. Tillerson were in Miami to attend a conference of leaders from North and Central America. In remarks, they implored regional officials to prevent Central Americans from setting out on the dangerous trek to enter the United States illegally.
For the Central American leaders, however, a top concern was making sure that citizens who had already made that trek could remain.
People from both El Salvador and Honduras benefit from a program called Temporary Protected Status that allows them to get work authorization in the United States. Guatemala has applied to be part of the program.
Mr. Tillerson said the country designations that allow migrants entering illegally to stay in the United States temporarily are made by John F. Kelly, the homeland security secretary. Mr. Kelly is due to participate in the conference on Friday.
Mr. Ortiz said the Central American leaders had received no assurances from the Americans, but he promised to continue to raise the issue “because these hard-working people have been making great contributions to the United states, and we hope they continue to have that opportunity.”
The Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America, held on Thursday, was co-hosted by the United States and Mexican governments to create shared goals for improving economic and security conditions in Central America. It is hoped that doing so will help reduce illegal migration to the United States and the impact of drug cartels in the region.
“We think it’s time to start dealing with a lot of these challenges in a more regional integrated fashion instead of just trying to solve it one country at a time,” Mr. Tillerson said.
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