Permanent Home, Temporary Status

Screen Shot 2018-02-15 at 8.56.47 AM.png

Anxiety emerged on Monday morning as I read a New York Times headline: “Trump Administration Says That Nearly 200,000 Salvadorans Must Leave.”

I laid in bed for a few more minutes trying to come to terms with the situation. Once I decided to get up, I went downstairs. My grandparents and uncle were watching Telemundo and had received the same news. My mother had already left the house to meet with my father's lawyer. Before I went to work, I called my dad.

“Hey, how you feeling?” I asked.

“Not too good, but listen, don’t worry. Everything will work out,” he said, his voice shaking.

“Yeah, for sure. I’ll see you later.” 

On January 8, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen announced the termination of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Salvadorans. Nearly 260,000 Salvadorans living in the U.S have 18 months to find a way to stay here legally or leave the country.  Temporary Protected Status is a humanitarian program that extends to people already in the United States, who have come from countries undergoing conflict or natural disasters. Last year, the Trump administration also ended TPS protection for Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Hondurans.

My father has been living in the United States for 24 years. Coming to America was always part of his plan, even while in college. My father attended La Universidad Nacional de El Salvador for business administration on a full scholarship. Out of his 10 siblings, he was the only one to attend college. During his sophomore year he realized the situation in El Salvador wasn’t getting any better. For many, life after the civil war was distressing. He decided he needed to leave in order to provide a better life for himself and his family.

“I stayed at your aunt Erma’s house while attending school. I went back home at least twice a year. The last time I went back, I had told your grandma my plan to come to America. I kissed her goodbye and that was the last time I saw her,” he told me. 

As soon as he came to New York he found a job in construction where he made about $300 a week. He used that money to take English classes and refill his MetroCard.

“The second construction company I worked for offered me double, and finally, at the third company, I made about $10,000 in two weeks. I used that money to renovate our house, actually.”

The third company he was referring to was his own. It took my dad about six years to establish his business and because of it, I get to go to college, drive a Jeep Wrangler, and have a roof over my head.

Salvadorians have built families, businesses, and communities. They’ve gone to college, filed taxes and have contributed tremendously to this nation. Going back means starting over in a country where conditions are worse than before due to poverty, gang violence, and violence against women. The capital, San Salvador, is considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world. El Salvador hasn’t been able to rebuild from the damage of a 12-year civil war that the United States helped fund, and an earthquake that led the United States to give Salvadorans TPS. 

Sandra Morales, 21, was two years-old when she came to the United States.

“I don’t remember El Salvador all that much. My mom was 19 when we arrived in the United States. At 19, I was a freshmen in college. I can never imagine all the obstacles she had to face. I‘m grateful she made that sacrifice for me.” 

Sandra and her family reside in Sacramento, California. She attends Sacramento City College where she coordinates marches and talks that help inform undocumented students and their families on basic rights and ways to protect the community if they come in contact with ICE. Once the news about TPS broke out it didn't come as a surprise to her.

“After Trump took office he made his views on immigration very clear. It was a feeling that I had been preparing myself for since Trump got elected. I knew his administration would end it because of all the negative rhetoric he was spewing in the media. Personally, I get sad sometimes. It’s difficult to hear what's on the news. This is a a country I’ve grown to love.” 

Like many other TPS holders, Sandra is faced with a difficult decision once her TPS expires. 

“When my TPS expires I’ll most likely lose my job and then I won’t have a form of income to pay for school or my bills. The same thing goes for everyone affected by this decision. Our lives are surrounded by uncertainty and fear. We have until September 9, 2019 to either find a way to get our residency or go back to a country we don’t remember.”

“As a community and as citizens you should speak out to lawmakers and elected officials, let them know we need a pathway to residency for TPS holders. The name may have “temporary” in it, but nothing we have built in this country is temporary.”

The “temporary” nature of TPS has perplexed policy makers for several years. TPS extensions have been extended for years, even decades. Honduras and Nicaragua were first designated for TPS on January 5, 1999 and El Salvador on March 9, 2001. The Immigration Act of 1990 states there is no initial designation of TPS that could last longer than 18 months. Nonetheless, there is no strict time limit on the length of a countries humanitarian crises. 

Since 1990, the United States has offered non-citizens who are unable to return to their country due to natural disasters or war a form of humanitarian protection: temporary protected status (TPS). To qualify for TPS, a noncitizen in the United States has to demonstrate that he or she has been physically present in the United States since the date their county’s TPS went into effect. An applicant must also register for TPS in the timeframe outline by the Department of Homeland Security. TPS does not lead to permanent status in the United States. If TPS is granted immigrants receive a work permit and protection against deportation. They're also allowed to apply for advance parole, which if granted gives them the ability to travel outside of the United States and allowed back in. The Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, are able to issue TPS for countries for periods of 6 to 18 months and are also able to extend TPS if conditions haven’t changed in their country of origin. The program denies TPS to people from designated nations that arrive after the date of designation. If extended, one must re-register and go through the process again. There's no durable solution once TPS is terminated. 

Michelle Malkin, a columnist for The Spectrum, views the removal of TPS as a long overdue  deadline for immigrants to “get right with the law or go home.” She also states “enforcing a limit on humanitarian gestures is the responsible thing for any self-sustaining nation to do.” Jessica Vaughan, a writer for USA TODAYthinks people who don’t qualify for green cards should use these 18-months to prepare to return home. With what they obtained such as education and savings they will serve as assets to their home countries. According to Vaughan, the end of TPS will help future presidents,“future presidents will have to find less permanent ways to postpone deportations.”

The end of TPS will not only affect families here in America but in El Salvador as well. A part of their earnings are sent to family members in El Salvador on a regular basis. According to Manuel Orozco, a political scientist who’s a part of the Inter-American Dialogue, approximately 80 to 85 percent of Salvadorans send money back home. On average, each person under TPS sends back $4,300 a year, a total of more than $600 million annually. This amounts to approximately two percent of El Salvador’s GDP. Over the years, the country’s GDP has only been growing at a rate of two percent each year. In other words: if the money stops coming in, the economy isn't able to grow. A statistical and demographic profile on TPS populations from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti was done by the Journal on Migration and Human Security in 2017. According to this profile, about 98,700 (48 percent) of the 205,900 households with TPS holders have mortgages, this includes roughly half of Salvadoran households. When it comes to labor force participation rates (ages 16 and up), Salvadorans are at 88 percent with unemployment being at five percent.

TPS has been able to protect and help immigrants achieve dreams that once seemed impossible. My father was able to reach his dream, a dream that has been passed down to me and find myself trying to achieve everyday.

“That’s the beauty of America. You can achieve your dreams because everything is within your reach. Look at what I achieved, and I can only imagine what you’ll achieve mija.”