By Flaviana Sandoval
BU News Service
The Department of Homeland Security announced Monday the termination of the Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, for 196,000 Salvadoran citizens living in the U.S. The measure has set a timeline to September 2019 when Salvadoran TPS holders will have to either leave the country or find other means to obtain lawful residency.
In Massachusetts, 6,000 Salvadorans with TPS have seen their fear of being removed from the program turned into reality. This measure comes after the Department of Homeland Security ended TPS designation for 2,500 Nicaraguans, 1,040 Sudanese and 59,000 Haitians in November 2017, sparking fears more nationalities were to follow.
TPS allows immigrants from countries affected by civil war, natural disasters and other catastrophes to live and work in the U.S. There are currently ten countries covered by the program including Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan and El Salvador. Four of these (Haiti, Nicaragua, Sudan and El Salvador) have been terminated from the list of TPS beneficiaries and it is expected the Trump administration will continue with similar measures for the remainder of countries included in the program.
Jose Palma arrived in Tucson, Arizona, in 1998 with a ten-dollar bill and a plastic bag filled with documents immigration officials gave him when he was caught crossing the Mexican border into the United States illegally. He was set for deportation back to El Salvador, his home country, but filed a request for political asylum and was allowed to live in Arizona while his application was being processed.
Now, almost 20 years later, Palma has built a life for him and his family in Massachusetts after moving from Tucson. He studied at North Shore Community College to become a paralegal and has worked as community leader in different campaigns to protect immigrant communities. In July 2017, along with a group of fellow TPS holders from El Salvador, he founded the Massachusetts TPS Committee, a grassroots organization aimed at supporting TPS holders in Massachusetts.
After two trips to Washington D.C. and meetings with House Representatives and U.S. Senators from Massachusetts, the Massachusetts TPS Committee successfully persuaded public officials to show public support for TPS holders.
“We also set out to convince Governor Charlie Baker to publicly support our cause,” Palma said. “For one of our initiatives, we collected 4,300 written letters from American citizens who supported the TPS program and delivered them to Governor Baker’s office to ask for his support.”
On Nov. 14, 2017, Governor Charlie Baker sent an official letter to the acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Elaine Duke, asking her to renew TPS for citizens from Haiti, Honduras and El Salvador living in Massachusetts.
“The majority of people involved with the Committee are TPS holders,” Palma said. “We always put politics aside to continue to do the work, because it’s our lives and our families at stake. I have led many campaigns before but this campaign is different — this is my own family at risk.”
Thousands of American-born children become orphans
Kevin and Angela Palma, Jose Palma’s children, are 17- and 12-years-old. Kevin attends high school in Lynn, Mass. Both Kevin and his sister were born in the U.S and are therefore American citizens.
On Monday, Angela learned about the termination of the TPS designation for El Salvador when her mother picked her up from school.
“I knew it when I saw her face,” Angela Palma said. “She was very sad.”
The youngest Palma said she tries to focus on her studies but is constantly distracted by her worries that her parents could be deported.
“I’m afraid of not being able to take the opportunities that my country provides if I have to leave with my family,” Palma said.
Jackeline Landaverde, 16, is another American citizen with TPS-holder parents. She is in her senior year of high school. She loves soccer and dreams of becoming an architect, but she fears if her parents are forced to leave the country, she might not be able to continue studying.
“I’m worried about the future,” Landaverde said. “Since I’m the eldest sister, I would have to drop out of school to support my younger sisters so that they can have better opportunities.”
When she learned the news about the termination of the TPS, Landaverde said she wanted to cry.
“It troubles me because if they take away TPS, they will be taking away our parents and they would be harming their own citizens,” Landaverde said. “We are not going to feel love for our own country because they would be separating us from our parents. They would be tearing families apart.”
Salvadorans came to build new lives
El Salvador was given TPS status in 2001, because of an earthquake with an epicenter 60 miles away from the capital city, San Salvador, which left 944 people dead, 5,565 injured and 108,261 homes destroyed, according to a report from Christian Aid. The country was suffering from deep political instability due to the 12-year civil war which killed 75,000. According to the Washington Office on Latin America, the conflict in El Salvador left 289,000 people internally displaced and nearly 500,000 people fled the country. Jose Palma was one of them.
As a child, he did not have money to go to school Palma said, so he worked to help his family. At 22, Palma decided to migrate to the United States in search for opportunities to study and to help provide for his three younger sisters in El Salvador.
“I started working in factories, where I made $5.25 an hour,” Palma said. “That was the minimum wage back in 1998. I worked cleaning buildings, as a driver for milk delivery trucks and as a dishwasher in restaurants and diners.”
After completing his paralegal studies at North Shore Community College, he began work as a community organizer and started getting involved with immigrant communities. In 2010, he led the Student Immigrant Movement in protest in front of the Massachusetts State House against an amendment in the budget bill which prohibited contractors from doing business with the state if they employed illegal immigrants. The protest lasted 19 days.
“We didn’t move until the anti-immigrant amendments we were protesting against were virtually removed from the budget bill,” Palma said.
Although TPS is designed to be a temporary relief for countries under distress, it has allowed people from El Salvador to remain in the U.S. for the past 16 years.
“I have developed a life here,” Palma said. “My family is established here. I have three children. My two oldest have only visited El Salvador on two occasions.”
According to data by the Center for Migration Studies, Salvadoran TPS holders in the U.S. have 192,000 American-born children to date.
Ana Milagros Umaña, a Salvadoran whose 16-year-old daughter was born an American citizen and has never been to El Salvador, is most concerned with her daughter should Ana get deported.
“I cannot allow my daughter to go back to El Salvador, there is no future for her there,” Umaña said. “Neither do I want her to stay in the U.S. all alone, without her mother or any family to take care of her. The possibility that we could be separated from each other torments me.”
Umaña said her family is living in a state of extreme uncertainty despite success in America so far.
“After so many years living here, working so hard to get ahead, to build a good life for your children, to wake up one day and realize they could take it all away, and that you don’t know what’s going to happen to you or your family, it’s such a hard situation to face,” Umaña said.
Jose Palma believed the decision of ending TPS is one piece of a wider anti-immigration strategy the Trump administration has set itself to implement.
“They have made it their mission to reduce the amount of immigrants in the U.S.,” Palma said. “All the programs that are temporary or that have been put in place by executive orders, are going to be attacked … The final mission is to reduce the amount of immigrants that are coming into the U.S. and also, to some extent, to reduce the amount of power that the Latino community can acquire over the next few years.”
As of September, 2017, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had deported 211,068 immigrants, according to figures provided by the agency. The statistics also indicate ICE has made 42% more arrests since Trump took office in January 2017 compared to 2016.
The fastest-growing category of arrests since Trump’s inauguration is those facing no criminal charges. The agency arrested more than 28,000 “non-criminal immigration violators” between January and September 2017, nearly three times the amount of arrests in the same category in 2016.
Many organizations have been trying to highlight the contributions made by TPS holders to the American economy. A study published in July 2017 by the Center for Migration Studies in New York found TPS recipients have a high participation in the U.S. labor force, nearly 88 percent percent, well above the 63 percent of the total U.S. population; almost half of them have mortgages and 11 percent are self-employed.
TPS holders are required to pay taxes like any other citizen and must also pay a $495 fee every time their TPS is renewed.
International economy in shift due to deportation
According to Kevin Appleby, senior director at the Center for Migration Studies, the termination of TPS will have negative consequences for the U.S’ economy.
“Crucial industries will see a shortage of workers, banks will see defaults in mortgages and government coffers will lose out on tax revenues and consumer spending,” Appleby said.
Appleby said deporting TPS-recipient parents would create thousands of orphans in the country which would increase foster care costs, place a burden on local and state governments and alienate the children affected.
According to statistics by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, deporting all Salvadoran, Honduran and Haitian TPS holders could cost taxpayers around $3.1 billion and would lead to a $45.2 billion reduction in GDP over a decade.
Ruddy Lazo, the Consulate General of El Salvador in Boston, hired two law firms last November to provide free legal counsel and assistance to TPS holders from El Salvador who want know more about their options.
“From those 196,000 Salvadorans living in the U.S under TPS, around 26,000 could have an option to become permanent residents under different circumstances,” Lazo said. “Legal assistance by these two law firms is provided at no cost at the Consulate.”
After Monday’s announcement, the Massachusetts TPS Committee aims to continue working towards a political solution to give TPS holders a path to permanent residence. Members of the committee are scheduled to travel to Washington D.C. in February to meet with members of congress to discuss a legislative agenda.
Jose Palma is still hopeful. “I haven’t given up on the idea that we can achieve permanent legal status. I’m not thinking about where to live in El Salvador once I’ve been deported or where I’m going to work if I’m forced to go back,” he said.
“I’m thinking about the things we can still do to continue living in this country … This is a moment to be motivated. If we have lived for so many years here, why not keep fighting?”