“By definition TPS is temporary,” the former Homeland Security chief, John F. Kelly, warned last summer. “It’s not meant to be forever.”
On Monday the Trump administration made good on that definition. The Department of Homeland Security announced it would end Temporary Protected Status for Salvadoran nationals, by far the largest recipient group of the program.
TPS, as it is known, is a band-aid immigration policy that has been repeatedly renewed over the years for certain national groups, as Congress remains unable to reach a deal on much-needed immigration reform. A majority of the American population wants reform that would legalize most of those who are currently here without full authorization, poll after poll in recent years have shown.
Monday’s decision throws the lives of about 190,000 Salvadorans in the States into uncertainty. Advocates are now pushing for a congressional route to re-protecting Salvadoran immigrants from deportation:
Call your Congressman at 202.224.3121 to support the bipartisan ESPERER Act (Extending Status Protection for Eligible Refugees with Established Residency Act of 2017). This bill provides a path to permanent residency for certain TPS holders, and their spouses and children, too.
— Hassan Ahmad (@HMAesq) January 8, 2018
In Los Angeles
Though not unexpected, the announcement came as a blow to the Salvadoran immigrant community in Los Angeles, home to the largest chunk of the diaspora in the U.S.
Today at Carecen, the city’s stalwart Salvadoran-American advocacy group, leaders from the progressive and labor left in Los Angeles came together and denounced the administration’s plan, including City Councilmember Gil Cedillo, and union figure Maria Elena Durazo.
Revoking the program for El Salvador would affect immigrants who’ve built entire lives in the United States since TPS went into effect after devastating earthquakes there in 2001, speakers said. Carecen, which is shorthand for Central American Resource Center, is opening up workshops and phone lines for legal help for those currently enlisted in TPS.
Terminating Salvadoran TPS will affect:
-195,000 working people
-192,700 U.S.-born children
– $109.4 BILLION lost from the U.S. GDP over 10 years without these workers
— UNITE HERE #SaveTPS (@unitehere) January 8, 2018
But what the TPS termination really demonstrates is that the U.S. government has utterly failed to normalize not just tens of thousands of Salvadoran immigrants without green cards, but also millions of others who are without citizenship yet paradoxically well integrated into American society. (This is an age-old story at this point and L.A. TACO readers should not need reminding that no human being is illegal.)
Many Salvadorans covered by TPS, of course, have American-born children, making them the parents of citizens with full legal rights. Deporting them would tear up families and cause immeasurable heartbreak and emotional trauma for U.S. citizens and their communities, advocates point out.
‘When it comes to permanent legal protection for Salvadorans, Donald Trump, Barack Obama, George Bush, father and son, Bill Clinton, and Ronald Reagan were all right-wingers.’
Veronica Lagunas, a TPS recipient from El Salvador and a longtime advocate for immigrants rights in Los Angeles, said she had spent all morning at Carecen, worried once more, and worried about her children, who are in school.
“They are fourteen years old and eight. I could not leave them here, and I could not take them to my country,” Lagunas said during a packed press conference. “I’m going to honest with you, I’m scared. Definitely. … But this fear is pushing me to keep on raising my voice.”
Carecen leaders announced plans for a voter registration drive and a march and rally at Placita Olvera, for January 13. (See Facebook event link here.)
“I invite any other person who has TPS,” Lagunas went on. “Now is not the moment to hide. It’s time to come out. No one will see the families that could be destroyed and could be separated.”
The TPS designation for El Salvador is set to end on Sept. 9, 2019. The Trump government has also revoked TPS for Nicaragua, which will end on January 5, 2019, and for Haiti, which will end on July 22, 2019.
The coverage of Honduras under the program was extended through summer 2018 but it is expected to be revoked at some point, advocates admit.
Overall, though, Monday’s announcement should not come as a surprise before a federal government that is intent on aggressively targeting undocumented immigrants for deportation.
There are approximately 2.1 million Salvadorans and their children in the United States (first and second generations), according to the Migration Policy Institute. Salvadoran Americans are the largest national subgroup from Central America, and the second-largest group of unauthorized immigrants in the country after Mexican nationals.
this is my family. they are part of the 200,000+ Salvadorans who will be affected by the decision to end TPS, if it’s executed. without my family, I don’t know how me and my siblings and cousins would survive. #SaveTPS pic.twitter.com/GawDQl9h78
— kb (@lapobrediablita) January 7, 2018
Roberto Lovato, one of the founding organizers of Carecen, who is now working on a book on recent reporting in El Salvador and along the migration trail, said on Monday that ultimately not a lot has changed over Salvadoran immigration since President Barack Obama’s term — and since well before.
“When it comes to permanent legal protection for Salvadorans, Donald Trump, Barack Obama, George Bush, father and son, Bill Clinton, and Ronald Reagan were all right-wingers,” Lovato said when reached in his hometown of San Francisco.
“[The United States is] denying to do what the international treaties — that the United states has signed on to — is demanding it to do,” he added, referring to U.S. commitments to help refugees fleeing violence and instability. “And this is also a testament to the United States’s inability to look at its own state-sponsored violence perpetuated in El Salvador.”
Indeed there was nearly no mention during Monday’s press conference of the high levels of violence that the people of El Salvador suffer, and certainly none mentioned in the government’s statement.
Year after year El Salvador has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. This is due partly to powerful transnational gangs that were themselves initiated on the streets of Los Angeles by refugees from the U.S.-backed civil war in the 1980s.
But more on that in future stories …
“No more sitting on the sidelines, waiting for the next community to be targeted,” said Angelica Salas, of rights group CHIRLA. “Salvadoreño!” she called to great cheers and applause, “Tienes que involucrarte, sin TPS o con TPS.”