GREENBELT – Immigrant residents from El Salvador with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) voiced their displeasure towards the Trump Organization on Sept. 12 as federal attorneys look to dismiss a lawsuit by local Latino and immigrant advocacy organization, CASA de Maryland.
On Jan. 8, the Trump Administration announced its decision to terminate the TPS protections for Salvadorian recipients, meaning that they must leave the county by Sept. 9, 2019.
TPS is a temporary residential status given to eligible immigrants to emigrant to the United States and to be allowed to work and live legally due to armed conflict or natural disasters affecting their country.
The Department of Homeland Security said because roads, schools, homes and water systems have been fixed since earthquake damages from the 1990s and early 2000s, Salvadorians under TPS can go back home. According to the Pew Research Center, an estimated 195,000 Salvadorians are living the U.S. with TPS.
On March 23, CASA, whose main headquarters is in Langley Park, announced that they were filling a lawsuit, alleging that the Trump Administration’s decision to terminate the program is racially motivated and not paying attention to El Salvador’s current crime situation. It joined three other lawsuits around the country protesting President Donald Trump’s decision.
“Much like the decision to separate families at the border, this decision to terminate TPS was made arbitrarily on how it would impact residents and American citizens, many of whom are minors,” Director of Workforce Development for CASA Lindolfo Carballo said.
Standing outside U.S. District Court, protesters held “Defend TPS” signs as CASA members and immigrants with TPS explained why the program should continue existing and how the lack of reason for its cancellation does not benefit the county.
“We are here to protect the rights of our Salvadorian brothers and sisters, neighbors and community leaders,” Attorney Tiffany Yang from the Washington Lawyers Committee, who is representing the organization, said.
Others were able to provide their personal experiences on how the program allowed them to rebuild their lives. Elena Aguilar, 47, arrived with her two children in 1996 and currently resides in Pennsylvania where she owns several businesses including a laundromat, a grocery store and flipping homes in the real estate market. As a businesswoman, she was stunned to hear Trump’s decision, but it motivated her to get involved.
“His decision did wake us up to fight for our right to stay here,” Aguilar said. “We may not be many, but we are a handful when we can demonstrate through our actions and protest to show how important we are to this country.”
Attorneys working the case for CASA say that the Trump Administration is looking to dismiss the lawsuit, stating their lawsuit has made no proof of racial discrimination. Attorney Caroline Lewis Wolverton noted all their evidence had been provided to the judge including the growing violence in the country and statements made by Trump during his presidential campaign.
“We maintain that the factual allegation presents a basis for concluding that the termination of El Salvador’s TPS was motivated by racial animus and not the statutory considerations of what the conditions in El Salvador actually are and for that reason, it violated the Constitution as well as the (Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965),” Wolverton said.
For several TPS recipients, going back to El Salvador is too dangerous. According to the U.S. Department of State’s Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), while the country’s murder rate has declined, it’s still one of the highest homicide rates in the world with 60.07 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. Most of the crime and violence is perpetrated by organized violence by gangs, mainly MS-13 and Barrio 18 according to the report.
German Fernandez, 36, understands the violence based on the first-hand experience. Coming over the U.S. in 1999 under the TPS program after Hurricane Mitch damaged the country, he wanted to plan to go back to his home country. However, his family insisted he stay in his new home in Hyattsville, especially after gang members murdered his father in 2016, Fernandez said.
“I cannot go back now after the murder of my father,” Fernandez said. “I do not know what would happen to me. The situation is bad, and our people are suffering.”
The fear of going back to El Salvador and leading the same fate as father consumes Fernandez. It was the key reason why he joined CASA last year and became an active member while continuing to work his construction job.
“We know that this administration has taken racist actions without thinking about how, for us, returning to El Salvador may be a life-or-death situation for us,” Fernandez said. “Every day, we hear more and more about the kidnappings and murders in our country, and we hope that the judge can make a humane decision.”
No deadline was provided by the judge when a ruling will occur. TPS recipients, like Fernandez and Aguilar, are hopeful that the decision will be in their favor and that one day, permanent residency or citizenship opportunities would be possible in the future.
“After being in the country all these years, following the law and paying taxes as any citizen would, the majority of us have clean records and we deserve the opportunity to become citizens of this nation,” Aguilar said. “We would no longer have to live in fear that a program would be canceled and remove us from our homes.”
Members of the Trump Administration’s legal counsel were not present for comment.