GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - On Monday, Jan. 8, the Trump administration ended the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 260,000 Salvadorans who have lived in the United States for nearly two decades.
For Salvadorans who currently have TPS, they must return to El Salvador by September 2019, figure out a legal way to stay here or become an undocumented immigrant.
TPS recipients live around the country, including West Michigan. In the state of Michigan, there are more than 2,600 Salvadorans living here, some of whom have protected status.
WZZM reached out to TPS holders in the area, but due to their impending legal status they did not want to discuss the issue
Lee Marvin, a Grand Rapids-based attorney who specializes in immigration law, is working with Salvadoran clients whose immigration status is in a precarious state.
What is TPS?
The Temporary Protected Status program is an immigration system in the United States that gives residents of certain countries the ability to live and work here legally, without being a citizen.
Nations are granted TPS status for three reasons:
- They are engaged in an ongoing armed conflict
- There was a natural disaster
- There are extraordinary circumstances
“The program basically says, ‘we recognize that there are major problems back in your country, and we’re not going to expect that you go home. We are going to give you the ability to stay here, live here and work here—legally,” said Marvin.
People need to qualify for the program by meeting certain requirements.
As the name suggests, the program is temporary, because once a nation has solved the problem or infrastructure is redeveloped following a catastrophe, the U.S. government will end the protected status.
Currently, Honduras, Nepal, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen have temporary protected status. And El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan have recently had their TPS ended.
Why does El Salvador have TPS?
In 2001, El Salvador was enrolled in the TPS program after there were devastating earthquakes there. Since then, its status is reevaluated every 18 months and the federal government can either renew the program or end it.
For the last 17 years, both Bush’s administration and Obama’s renewed El Salvador’s TPS program. But when it went up for review with the Trump administration, the program was ended.
“The designation was given to allow the nation to recover from [the earthquake],” said Marvin. “The Department of Homeland Security have looked into the status of the country and where they are in the recovery, and that’s why they’ve elected to end TPS for those countries.”
A major concern about ending the program is that Salvadorans have established lives here for the past 17 years. Marvin said the TPS program has caused other problems that weren’t anticipated.
“Like what do you do with these people for 15, 20 years have lived in another country, and they don’t know anything about their original country,” said Marvin.
The concern for Salvadorans is that although TPS was granted because of an earthquake, it also protected them from the continual violence that is in El Salvador.
Following a brutal civil war in the 1980s and 90s, the international gang MS-13 was able to take root and establish itself in El Salvador. Now, the nation is listed as the third most dangerous country in the world by the World Economic Forum, and it has the second highest rate of homicide globally.
“A lot of these individuals have qualified for this status because it’s not ethical, moral for us to kick them out to go back to a country that’s in pieces,” said Marvin. But “TPS was for the natural disaster.”
What can Salvadorans do now?
The TPS program was never intended to be permanent nor a path to citizenship. But, for many, the idea of returning after such a long period of time might seem unprecedented.
Marvin is working with clients to figure out what their next steps are.
“I have a number of clients that have been here for 15, 20 years, and they do have children here. They have options to be able to stay here,” said Marvin. “The final extension is to give people time to return or the next step for them in staying here.”
In the United States, immigration is family-based, which means that Salvadorans can work toward citizenship by having children that were born in the United States.
The TPS program created some unexpected problems, but Marvin hopes that another solution can be figured out for people who are enrolled in the program that doesn’t just involve deportation.
“The hope is that the government sees that this wasn’t a problem that was created by TPS,” said Marvin. “It’s not fair to suggest that people go back to what they don’t know.
For more information about the history of El Salvador and Temporary Protected Status, look at this infographic:
Emma Nicolas contributed to this reporting.
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