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.