Elba Pereira was brought to tears just thinking about having to leave the United States after 20 years. Her 11-year-old daughter was born here and hasn’t known life anywhere else.
“It’s hard for me to think about being separated from my daughter, but I will not take her to El Salvador,” she said.
She says she doesn’t want to expose her child to the crime and danger in the country.
“Three years ago, I went to El Salvador and when I was there, they killed my brother-in-law, when she was there,” Pereira said, adding her sister was left alone with four daughters.
But that may be her only option if she doesn’t want to be separated from her daughter. Pereira is under Temporary Protected Status, TPS, and the Department of Homeland Security announced that status will be revoked.
TPS is a humanitarian status for citizens of countries facing things like civil war or natural disasters. In 2001, after two major earthquakes hit the country, it was given to the people of El Salvador. Since that year, it has allowed Pereira and more than 200,000 people from El Salvador to work and live in the United States legally.
But now, after nearly two decades, Homeland Security says the substantial disruption caused by the earthquakes no longer exist.
“I don’t believe in that and it’s not a good argument,” said Blanca Molina, executive director for Centro Comunitario CEUS. “Amnesty International sent a letter to Trump and said we went to El Salvador, we examined it and they’re not conditioned to send these people back.”
The Department of Homeland Security writes: “The effective date of the termination of TPS for El Salvador will be delayed 18 months to provide time for individuals with TPS to arrange for their departure or to seek an alternative lawful immigration status in the United States, if eligible.”
Jeannie Telles’ parents are here under TPS. She says both have worked and paid taxes like every citizen as long as she’s been alive. She asks how can you send those people back now?
“My parents, they never got help from the government — no stamps, no reduction in school lunch or anything like that. So people need to just realize there is a lot more going on, that we put into this country,” said Telles.
Telles was born and raised in the U.S. Because she’s American and over the age of 21, she is allowed to petition for her parents to become permanent residents. Still, it doesn’t make her less worried about potentially being separated from her mom.
“Because my mom is still in the process of getting her papers, she still has the TPS. And without the process being completely finished there is a risk for her to either get deported or not deported, so it’s just a scary moment,” said Telles.
People in Pereira’s situation don’t have a path to citizenship.
“In her case she has a daughter, but she’s just 11,” said Molina. “That means she has to wait another 10 years to make a petition for her. She doesn’t have any other avenue.”
“We’re going to be looking at American children who are forced to choose, or their parents are forced to make the choice for them, as to whether they are essentially de facto deported. They go with their parents because they have to be with their parents and they’re forced to leave their country of citizenship and go to a country they may not even know. Or they stay in this country left to someone else, perhaps put in foster care, perhaps in a vulnerable situation, and they’re deprived of their parents,” said Seton Hall University law professor and Director of the Center for Social Justice Lori Nessel.
So what does one do in this situation?
“We have a big challenge to work and look for a path to legalize all these people,” said Molina.
The only permanent solution for the hundreds of thousands of people in limbo is for Congress to enact legislation. But right now, there aren’t any bills on the floor.