After over 16 years of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) renewals by the Republican Bush administration and the Democratic Obama administration, President Donald Trump’s administration announced that TPS will be coming to an end. The decision directly impacts students at UC Santa Cruz and other communities who have built their lives in the U.S.
“It just reinforces how unwelcoming this administration is to immigrant communities and how much this administration misunderstands the value and the contribution of immigrant families here in the United States,” said UC student Regent Paul Monge, who is Salvadoran American.
The decision to end TPS for about 200,000 Salvadorans, roughly 3.15 percent of El Salvador’s population, was announced on Jan. 8. Salvadorans were first granted TPS following two massive earthquakes in 2001. TPS will also be terminated for Haitians, Nicaraguans and Sudanese immigrants, totaling 78 percent of all TPS recipients.
The declaration states Salvadorans previously protected under TPS now must leave the country or obtain a green card by Sept. 9, 2019. For many of those affected, this means they must uproot their lives or separate their families if some relatives can establish residency while others cannot.
“I have aunts and uncles who came to the U.S. [from El Salvador] during 2001,” said UCSC second- year Jasmine*. “One of my aunts just graduated [becoming] a nurse here and she’s also under TPS so she’s been working. It’s just worrisome for her to come here, work hard, seek protection in this country and then just have it ripped away like that.”
Trump chose to remove the rights of Salvadorans to live and work legally in the U.S., citing improved living conditions in El Salvador. He could have instead renewed TPS and granted green cards and protection to those who raised children in the U.S. The decision comes just days before Congress is set to reach a consensus on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, another anti-immigration effort of the Trump administration.
If Republicans and Democrats do not come to an agreement, congressional Democrats may be willing to curb the diversity visa lottery program in exchange for preserving TPS, the Washington Post reported. The lottery program awards about 55,000 green cards a year to immigrants from countries with low immigration rates to the U.S.
A bill called Act to Sustain the Protection of Immigrant Residents Earned through TPS (ASPIRE TPS) was also introduced in Congress last November to provide a way for TPS recipients to apply for permanent residence in the U.S., but it’s unlikely to pass due to Trump’s stance on immigration.
With the Trump administration’s series of anti-immigration policies, many feel there is no security for immigrants and their families in the U.S. Immigrant rights groups, both around the country and here in Santa Cruz, are vehemently working to counter these policies through community support, sanctuary spaces and ICE intervention trainings.
Sanctuary Santa Cruz is a local community-based organization working to protect immigrants and refugees from deportation and discrimination. Ernestina Saldaña, Sanctuary Santa Cruz lead member, Mexican immigrant and U.S. legal resident, said it’s difficult to make local immigrants feel safe in a time of turmoil.
“We are talking about politicians and an organization, the police, that traditionally have not been there for the people,” Saldaña said. “You see the police coming and people start freaking out because even if they are just going to say ‘good morning’ or are just walking by, there is a fear. It’s happening to a lot of folks and immigrants in the community.”
There are currently over 200,000 U.S.-born children of Salvadoran TPS recipients. Santa Cruz County is home to about 20,000 undocumented families, Saldaña said. For Salvadoran American students, the decision to end TPS could force them to relocate to a country they‘ve never lived in.
The UC Office of the President (UCOP) has yet to release a statement on TPS, but it has introduced the UC Immigrant Legal Services Center, an initiative to provide free legal services to UC students at risk of deportation.
UC student Regent Paul Monge’s parents were born in El Salvador and his aunts came to the U.S. under TPS. Hearing about the decision to end TPS was agonizing, Monge said.
“From the perspective of being a student, the uncertainty and instability that many immigrant families are facing right now has a direct toll on our academic well- being,” Monge said. “It’s hard to focus on your studies when you’re having to figure out whether or not your relatives will be in the country in a year’s time.”
For Salvadorans at risk of deportation, they will not only be uprooting their lives but also re- entering one of the most dangerous countries in the world. El Salvador currently has the world’s highest homicide rate for a country not at war.
Though she was born and raised in the U.S., UCSC student Jasmine has often listened to her family discuss gang violence in El Salvador.
“If you’re a male in a specific zone in El Salvador and the police come and ask for your identification,” Jasmine said, “most likely the police [are] part of a gang and so they’re just trying to see where you’re from, and if you’re from an area near the opposite gang, you’re most likely going to get shot at.”
The direct effects of deportation may seem distant to the Trump administration, but for those impacted, it can mean moving back to a country where their lives are at risk every day.
“A lot of immigrants are working here because of TPS,” Jasmine said. “And it’s not people that came here two days ago, these are people that have lives here and who are already accustomed to the world here.”