SEABROOK – Leonel Marquez is anxious about the future. “There’s no peace,” the 38-year-old said through a translator. “We’re definitely worried, especially because 18 months is going to go by pretty quickly. We’re already established here, and we have a home. We have a car.” Marquez moved to the United States from El Salvador in […]
SEABROOK – Leonel Marquez is anxious about the future.
“There’s no peace,” the 38-year-old said through a translator. “We’re definitely worried, especially because 18 months is going to go by pretty quickly. We’re already established here, and we have a home. We have a car.”
Marquez moved to the United States from El Salvador in 2000 on a work permit and then later received Temporary Protected Status (TPS). The program enabled him to stay and work in the country if he renewed his permit every 18 months.
He now lives in Hyattsville with his wife and two children, both of whom were born in the U.S. He is the only member of his family with TPS.
On Jan. 8, the Trump Administration announced they are terminating the TPS program for people from El Salvador. Salvadoran TPS holders will have until September 2019 to leave the United States or find other means to remain in the country, such as obtaining a green card.
Salvadorans were first able to enroll in the program after earthquakes hit El Salvador in 2001.
Marquez said he has “no idea” what he will do without the program.
“There’s not that many options beyond going back to El Salvador,” he said. “(I) have no idea what’s going to happen, especially because (I’m) already 38 years old and can’t leave (my) family.”
Marquez is one of about 200,000 Salvadorans across the United States—and one of nearly 30,000 in the Washington D.C. metro area—with TPS.
Many local leaders in Prince George’s County have expressed their opposition to the termination of the program for people from El Salvador.
“I have always said that our strength is our diversity, so it is incumbent upon all Prince Georgians to stand up for the rights of our friends, neighbors, and co-workers who are in jeopardy of losing their immigration status,” said County Executive Rushern Baker, III. “Their loss is our loss.“Prince George’s County stands in solidarity with our Salvadoran and immigrant communities.”
Prince George’s County is one of the top four counties in the United States with immigrants from Central America, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
“The state of Maryland is home to one of the largest community of Salvadorans across the nation under the TPS program, and many of them reside here in Prince George’s County,” said Danielle Glaros, chair of the county council. “As contributing members of our communities, these residents are parents, family members, homeowners, business owners, workers, and neighbors.
“The Prince George’s County Council is working to support our County’s immigrant population, and stands in solidarity with those who oppose ending the TPS program and forcing the deportation of immigrants who have lived and worked in our country and communities for many years.”
Mount Rainier Ward 1 City Councilwoman Celina Benitez has been contacted by local constituents who are worried about how the termination of TPS will affect them and their families.
They tell her about “their concerns for their families, their kids…what are they going to do with their businesses, what are they going to do with their employees, what are they going to do with their homes. It’s this uncertainty of what the future holds,” she said.
Maryland State Del. Jimmy Tarlau (D-47A) has also heard from residents who are troubled about how the ruling will affect their lives.
“It’s devastating for people in our community,” Tarlau said. “My district probably is 35 percent immigrants from El Salvador, probably a thousand of whom are in the TPS category.”
Jaime Contreras, the vice president of the Service Employees International Union, said he has heard from members in the D.C. region with TPS who, “just feel mad or betrayed, because they’ve been there for decades, paying their taxes, playing by the rules…For this administration to turn their backs on these workers, it’s unspeakable.”
Contreras, Benitez, and representatives from CASA de Maryland and the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition agreed that TPS holders should apply to renew their authorization when the Department of Homeland Security makes that available.
Benitez plans to hold an event in Mount Rainier with the collaboration of the Salvadoran Consulate. The consulate staff and volunteers will be available to help TPS holders with any questions they have and fill out forms.
Benitez has not set a date yet for the event.
TPS holders can also consult an immigration lawyer to assess whether they have other options for remaining in the United States, such as obtaining a green card or claiming political asylum.
Glaros said any county residents who are detained or facing deportation might be eligible for free legal services through the Immigrant Services and Language Access Initiative (ISLA). ISLA is a collaboration between the county council, county government, the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, the Vera Institute of Justice and CASA.
Although these are immediate and short-term actions TPS holders can take, Executive Director of the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition Kathryn Doan said the long-term solution is Congressional action to provide them with a path to citizenship.
“There needs to be a strong push for a permanent solution for people who have lost TPS,” Doan said. “A lot of folks aren’t going to have any options beyond Congress taking action.”
Nick Katz, the senior manager of legal services for CASA, said he is “cautiously optimistic” that Congress will provide permanent protections for people with TPS.
However, if Congress does not take action soon, he said “we’ll just keep pushing. Eventually, there needs to be a solution. We need that now, and we can’t wait. But, if Congress doesn’t act, we will continue fighting until they do.”
As Marquez considers his future without TPS, he is particularly concerned about the crime in El Salvador. According to the Department of State, El Salvador has one of the highest murder rates in the world.
“(I’m) here because (I) had better opportunities and a better situation,” Marquez said. “But if the situation were better in El Salvador, (I) would have stayed, because nobody wants to leave their homeland.”