In another sweeping action upending immigrant communities, the Trump Administration Monday announced it is terminating Temporary Protected Status for more than 200,000 immigrants from El Salvador who’ve been living here protected from deportation for nearly 17 years. The decision was met with widespread condemnation from church leaders, labor and immigrant rights groups and business organizations calling for Congress to act to spare the Salvadorans, many of whom have U.S. citizen children and employers who want them to stay.
Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said that “the substantial disruption” to conditions caused by an earthquake in 2001 and that led to providing TPS, as protective status is called, no longer exist. She announced that the administration was delaying termination of the Salvadorans’ TPS for 18 months. She said this period “will allow Congress to craft a potential legislative solution” if lawmakers choose to prevent such a large immigrant group with deep roots here from becoming undocumented overnight.
After the news broke, Cristian Chavez Guerrero, 37, a Houston resident with three children and a U.S. legal resident wife, broke down in tears during a Monday press call organized by the pro-immigrant America’s Voice group in Washington, D.C.
“Right now, there is a storm in my head … I feel lost,” Chavez Guerrero said in English that he’s mastered, along with information technology job skills, since arriving here in 2000. Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice Education Fund, called the TPS decision “a cruel and heartless announcement” that threatens to drive Salvadorans “back to a country engulfed in corruption, violence and weak governance.”
Others echoed those sentiments.
“Families who have contributed to our economy and our communities deserve better than being told to abandon the lives they’ve built here and to leave for a country they may hardly know anymore,” Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, in a statement. “The uncertainty that immigrants face today isn’t just a disservice to them; it threatens the future of our exceptional country. Manufacturers call on Congress to act.”
TPS is a program that has allowed administrations to extend temporary residency to foreign nationals on U.S. soil at a time when a profound disaster—natural or political—strikes in their home countries. Originally, close to 300,000 Salvadorans in the United States were vetted and granted TPS after a killer earthquake rocked the small Central American country in 2001, as the Center for Public Integrity explained in a recent story. Congress created TPS as part of the Immigration Act of 1990.
TPS is not a precursor to a green card, or permanent legal status. Some TPS holders have been able to obtain green cards through marriage, for example, but most, even if they have U.S. spouses, have no way forward to legal status at this time.
Most of the Salvadorans who qualified for TPS were undocumented, and had arrived after fleeing a brutal civil war that raged between 1980 and 1992. The United States was deeply involved in the war, providing military support to the Salvadoran government. Salvadorans have also fled the country since that time to join family in the United States and to escape both poverty and rising organized crime. More than half of those with TPS status have lived here for more than 20 years.
The Center story profiled Salvadorans such as Juan Cortez, 47, a Maryland resident for nearly 25 years with a son who is in ROTC, the Reserve Officer Training Corp, in his Maryland high school. Others who told their stories were Pennsylvania resident Karla Alvarado, 29, a home health-care nurse supervising are for 55 clients, and Dina Paredes, a Los Angeles luxury hotel employee who told the Center: “We are not a burden. We pay our taxes.”
The Salvadorans are the largest group of foreign nationals yet to lose Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, under Trump, who promised to crack down on undocumented migration and programs that extend legal status beyond what critics consider reasonable. Organizations advocating big cuts to legal immigration—and whose arguments some Trump advisers embraced—have long criticized TPS because administrations have extended the status repeatedly for certain groups.
This year, Homeland Security also announced plans to also terminate TPS for tens of thousands of Haitians and Nicaraguans, among other nationalities. Officials said they are still studying whether to terminate TPS for Hondurans.
The Homeland Security statement on the termination of TPS for Salvadorans said Nielsen sought out information about conditions in that country, and that based on TPS statutes, “determined that the original conditions caused by the 2001 earthquakes no longer exist.” Nielsen also said that the deportations of more than 39,000 Salvadorans over the last two years show that El Salvador’s inability to absorb returned nationals “has been addressed.” But officials considering whether to extend or end TPS can also take into consideration other country conditions as well as what is best for U.S. interests, critics of Monday’s decision said.
An estimated 200,000-plus U.S.-citizen children have Salvadoran TPS parents, and an estimated 34 percent of Salvadorans with TPS are homeowners, according to surveys by the Center for Migration Research at the University of Kansas. They work in a variety of businesses nationally, but are concentrated in the Washington, D.C. metro area, as well as in Los Angeles and other parts of California, Texas, New York and Florida.
The Homeland Security decision is a blow to Salvadorans in the home country as well. Both leftist and conservative governments in El Salvador have urged Republican and Democratic administrations alike in the United States since 2001 to keep extending TPS—and they have—because of the harm that could ensue with mass deportations. Many Salvadorans rely on money immigrant relatives send home.
El Salvador has also tried to show its commitment to the United States—and keep in good favor—by agreeing to send thousands of its own troops to Iraq and Afghanistan to fight in wars. Salvadoran troops have suffered casualties and filled in for U.S. troops vacating key aviation and advisory roles in war zones. Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly, a former Marine Corp. general, observed Salvadoran troops training in 2013 while he was Commander of the U.S. Southern Command. He said the Salvadorans were “good, decent people who stepped forward to be in a fight with other good and decent people.”
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