Salvadorans were first admitted into the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program after the 2001 earthquakes in El Salvador. Currently, about 18,000 Salvadoran immigrants live in Maryland and participate in the immigration program.
According to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Secretary of Homeland Security may designate TPS to immigrants of a certain country if “conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately.” Trump’s administration has recently declared that 200,000 Salvadorans’ TPS permits will soon be terminated, since conditions in El Salvador have been drastically improved since the 2001 earthquakes. This decision gives Salvadorans until September 9, 2019, to either leave the U.S. or obtain legal residency.
TPS has a historical tie with Montgomery County, strengthened by El Salvador’s consul location in Washington D.C. According to Ena Ursula Pena, the consul, the United States has become a location for Salvadoran TPS holders in the country to “attend meetings, get training and plan ways to protect TPS in Congress at the consul.”
Given the strong support for maintaining TPS for Salvadoran nationals within Montgomery County, the administration’s decision has provoked a great deal of backlash from county residents. Groups such as CASA, an immigration and naturalization service, and service union 32BJ SEIU have denounced the motion to end TPS for Salvadorans. Many students have also voiced their disdain towards the policy. “I think that the repealing of TPS will have negative effects on El Salvadoran families, as they’ll have to abandon their friends and family in the US to return back to El Salvador. This’ll especially be hard on famlies who have kids who were born here, and are American citizens”, said Naveen Raman, a Richard Montgomery High School senior. Piper Feldman, a junior at Richard Montgomery High School, noted, “I don’t think that this decision is the most effective thing we could be doing, especially since the situation back home for these immigrants is not great and the whole purpose of giving them TPS was to protect them.”
Although El Salvador has recovered from Earthquake damage, it still remains dangerous in different ways. According to the United States Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security, “crimes of every type routinely occur”; in a 2015 Central American University poll, 24.5% of Salvadorans reported being victims of a crime. A 13-year civil war weakened the country’s criminal justice system, propelling gang activity and in 2016 El Salvador’s high homicide rate even prompted the department to issue a travel warning to notify U.S. citizens about the dangers of traveling to this country.
While the homicide rate has experienced a decrease since then, the dangers of living in El Salvador still evidently strike fear in those who will possibly have to face deportation. According to the Sentinel, Maryland 18th District Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez, a native of El Salvador herself, said: “There is still the violence caused by the gangs that caused many Salvadorans to flee their homes…if push comes to shove, and if the 18 months are up, people simply will join the 11 million [undocumented immigrants living in the United States].”
Many Salvadorans have found jobs and raised their families in the United States, and would consider it their home. This is especially true in Maryland, where, according to Bethesda Magazine, about 18,000 Salvadorans participate in the immigration program. In a statement about the Trump’s administration’s decision, county executive Isiah Leggett said: “The action threatens to tear apart communities and families who have put down strong roots here.”
As of now, there is still over a year and a half before the September 2019 deadline. In that time, those who are against the Trump administration’s decision can only hope that Congress will pass laws easing the pathway to legal citizenship. Gutierrez said: “We need to switch gears and continue asking specifically for a path for permanent residency.”
Article by MoCo Student Staff writer Michelle Li of Richard Montgomery High School