Extension of Temporary Protection Status provides a moment of relief for Salvadoran immigrants in the US

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Hector Amaya entered the United States illegally from El Salvador in 2004. Despite currently being allowed to live and work legally in the US under the government’s Temporary Protection Status (TPS), Amaya lives in constant fear of deportation.

The TPS was set to expire for Salvadorans on January 2, 2020, but an agreement was reached between the Trump administration and the Nayib Bukele administration which pushed back the cancellation date to January 2, 2021. 

In early December 2020, the end date for the TPS program was extended to October 4, 2021, because of ongoing legal battles that have temporarily barred the Trump administration from ending the program. According to the Miami Herald,    

On Monday, DHS said that although a U.S. appeals court in September overturned a Northern California lower district court’s temporary injunction barring President Donald Trump from terminating TPS, the appellate court has not yet issued its directive to the district court to make that ruling effective.

As a result of the court’s delay, the injunction ordered in the lawsuit Ramos vs. Nielsen on behalf of TPS recipients from Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, and Sudan remains in place.

TPS immigration status was given to Salvadorans after the devastating 2001 earthquakes in El Salvador that left more than a thousand dead and hundreds of thousands of homes damaged. This program provides temporary legal status to Salvadorans who entered the US after 2001 and were unable to return home because of the natural disaster. In addition, the TPS has allowed immigrants from Haiti, Somalia, Sudan, Nepal, Honduras, Liberia, South Sudan, Yemen, and Syria to remain in the US because of similar natural disasters or armed conflicts in their home countries.

Like many of the approximately 250,000 Salvadorans who live in the US under TPS, Amaya is having a hard time during the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the pandemic, he lost his construction job where he had been working for more than ten years after the company shut down during the pandemic.

He is worried about his employment situation, but he worries more about his parents back in El Salvador. Amaya told Global Voices via a phone interview that he has not seen his family, who still live in El Salvador, in over 15 years. His immigration status has always been temporary, and under the rules, he cannot leave the country and then re-enter legally. Amaya said:

It has been more than 15 years since I hugged my parents. All I want to do is sit with them and talk. Also, I want to see my mom smile and cook for me all the traditional Salvadoran foods, something she loves doing. It is the little things that I miss the most. My parents are older and live in a rural area of Berlin in Morazan. I am afraid they will get COVID and have to go to a Salvadoran Hospital. The fear of them getting sick and dying keeps me awake at night more than losing my job.

Besides COVID-19 and losing his job, Amaya has had to worry about his precarious immigration status. Despite the recent additional extension announcement, Amaya’s prospects for becoming a permanent resident or a US citizen within the TPS program are still quite difficult. TPS holders can get permanent residence (Green Card) by other means such as family-based or employment-based petition. However, TPS recipients face another struggle. Even if they find a way to get permanent resident status, they must leave the country for 3 to 10 years and have their visa processed at a consular office.    

If the TPS program is not extended past October 2021, he will be forced to leave the United States, a country that he calls home. His other option will be to stay in the US and be an undocumented immigrant, something he does not want to do. Amaya stated:

I live in constant fear that the TPS program will end before I find a way to become a permanent resident. I have done everything right; I am fluent in English, pay my taxes, and follow the law. I am looking to permanently legalize my status but haven’t found a way yet. 

Amaya hopes that the new administration of Joe Biden will extend TPS and allow him and others a path to become a lawful permanent resident.