NJ immigrant mom: Trump could dismantle TPS, leave her family in limbo
Veronica Salguero hasn't been to El Salvador since she fled in 2001, in the aftermath of the civil war. She settled in New Jersey and obtained Temporary Protected Status, a program for foreign nationals fleeing war-torn or disaster-stricken countries.
Sixteen years later, Salguero works as a commercial cleaner and raises her three daughters in Hamilton. She never got a green card — TPS has no path to permanent residency — but she continued working and paying taxes.
All that may change in January.
Immigration advocates fear that the Trump administration is dismantling the program, throwing more than 300,000 TPS holders and their U.S.-born children into limbo. Last week, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke announced the end of TPS for Nicaraguans and hinted Honduras' TPS designation may end in six months.
The Trump administration has to decide by January whether TPS will continue for Salvadorans.
This means Salgurro could be deported and her three U.S.-born daughters would have to leave with her.
"How am I going to go back to my country, which is in the aftermath of armed conflict, gang activity, kidnappings?" asked Salguero, a commercial cleaner who is part of 32BJ, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union. "For me, it's a country I don't recognize, even though the U.S. government may want to send me there. I might have to take my girls with me."
The decisions affect not only thousands of TPS holders such as Salguero but an estimated 275,000 U.S.-born children, according to a recent report by the left-leaning Center for American Progress.
"It (TPS) has helped me work, come out of the shadows, do everything that a resident can do," Salguero added. "Now, with the new administration, we don't know what will happen."
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The fate of TPS
The program was created in 1990 as part of the Immigration Act. It offers temporary status for eligible immigrants from nine countries facing disasters for up to 18 months. The government revisits the TPS designation for each country every 18 months, though the Trump administration has offered shorter extensions this year.
Today, TPS offers work authorization and the ability to apply for a driver's license for more than 300,000 people in the U.S. About 13,800 TPS holders from El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti live in New Jersey.
"People have status. They're working legally," said Kevin Brown, New Jersey state director of the union 32BJ, which represents Salguero. "If that status is taken away, it wouldn't be surprising if employers say, 'Your status is no longer valid. You're no longer eligible to work, and you can come back when there's some kind of authorization.'"
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A recent report from the Center for American Progress states TPS holders have lived in the U.S. for an average of 19 years and are employed at high rates, ranging from 69 percent to 83 percent. In New Jersey, about 81 percent of TPS holders from El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti are in the workforce.
The union 32BJ represents laborers from 55 different countries, including TPS holders from El Salvador, Honduras, Haiti and Nicaragua. Some are airport workers, others clean offices or other commercial buildings.
"They step up, work hard and they're able to go through the work of our union to be able to have a decent wage and make sure our kids get a decent education," Brown said. "They stabilize their lives so that their children do better. … That's the American dream, and that's what our union plays a role in."
Kevin Brown, NJ State Director of 32BJ, said TPS recipients are union members who work in schools, cleaning buildings and contribute to society.
Two bills related to TPS are making their way through Congress: The TPS Reform Act, introduced by Alabama Republican Rep. Mo Brooks, and the Extending Status Protection for Eligible Refugees with Established Residency (ESPERER) Act of 2017, introduced by Florida Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo.
Brooks' legislation aims to limit TPS, creating stricter time limitations and statutory tests.
"This legislation provides the needed reform for what has become a long-running amnesty program," he said in May when he first introduced the bill.
The ESPERER Act of 2017 looks to address the fate of thousands of residents who have this temporary relief by offering them an opportunity to gain permanent residency.
Curbelo told the Miami Herald in a statement that the Trump administration's "short-term extensions have created anxiety and uncertainty not only for these immigrants and their families, but also for their employers and neighbors whose prosperity also depends on them. Congress has an opportunity to change that, and I’m grateful the Administration has called for a permanent solution from Congress.”
New Jersey activists lobbied members of Congress in Washington, D.C., to support protections for TPS holders. Among them was Luis Munoz, a TPS holder who lives in Long Branch.
"It's ironic that at this point after 16, 20 years when we're working, paying taxes, leading our lives … they tell us, no, your country is better so you have to go back to your country," said Munoz, a client of the American Friends Service Committee who immigrated from El Salvador more than 20 years ago "It's really in bad taste what the Trump administration is doing."
Salguero worries about what will happen to her three daughters. Her oldest, 12, has special needs and attends a private school in Merrillville. Salguero doubts they could find the same level of care if she has to relocate to El Salvador.
"This is their country. They speak English first and also speak Spanish … but it would hurt their futures," Salguero said. "It would be like clipping their wings if I have to take them to another country they don't know."
Steph Solis: @stephmsolis; 732-403-0074; firstname.lastname@example.org