PHOENIX – On any given school night, hours worth of homework are laid out on the kitchen counter. Before dinner, Wilber Delgado and his wife, Eva Pineda, challenge their children to a spelling contest, and laughter fills the air.
But beneath the laughs, the Salvadoran parents are facing a mountain of worry. The Trump administration’s recent decision to end the Temporary Protected Status program, known as TPS, for certain immigrants could directly impact this family. The government’s decision gives individuals with protected status 18 months to find a permanent way to stay in the United States or return to El Salvador.
The program grants temporary visas allowing immigrants to live and work in the U.S. and protects them from being forced to return to their home countries. The U.S. has granted TPS to immigrants from 10 countries, mostly in Central America, for decades. Countries gain the designation after being affected by war or natural disasters.
Delgado is a TPS holder who has been living in the U.S. for 21 years through the program and work permits. He’s a homeowner, a taxpayer and the owner of an auto-glass business. The end of the program has shaken him to the core.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” he said. “What are we going to do? I have my family, I have a house, I have a business.”
If he and his wife were deported, they would not take their three U.S.-born children to El Salvador. Ravaged by crime and violence, their home country is too dangerous to raise children, they said. El Salvador lacks opportunity, they said, and there’s no future for their children to thrive there. Delgado and Pineda can’t bear the thought of leaving the U.S.
“I’m afraid of separating from my kids,” Delgado said, shaken. “I mean, I don’t even want to think about it cause I think I won’t be able to sleep.”
His wife can’t imagine giving their three young sons the bad news.
“How can you tell a 5- (or) 7-seven year old, ‘OK, look, we don’t know if we’re going to be here tomorrow. We don’t know what’s going happen,” she said. “We are devastated, you know? ‘Cause it’s going to be a separation of families.”
Nationwide, there are nearly 200,000 Salvadorans with TPS, according to the Center for American Progress – the largest group from any single country. In Arizona, there are 1,000 Salvadoran TPS holders, who collectively are the parents of 1,100 U.S.-born children in the state.
The Trump administration and supporters argues that TPS was only temporary, and many of his supporters contend that Salvadorans should have followed a path to citizenship while they were in the U.S. However, Ray A. Ybarra, a local Immigration lawyer, explained that TPS holders never had that option.
“Let’s be clear about something,” Ybarra said. “TPS was not a path to citizenship. There is no way someone could apply for TPS, then apply for residency, then apply for citizenship.”
Amid the uncertainty, the Salvadoran community is looking for guidance on what to do next. German Alvarez, the consulate general of El Salvador, says they’re trying to do what they can to help.
“We’re going to try to achieve a law that will allow our compatriots to stay (in the U.S.) in a permanent manner,” Alvarez said.
But many within the local Salvadoran community say the consulate’s efforts have not been enough thus far.
Karina Ruiz, president of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, is working to help the so-called “Dreamers” and the Salvadoran community join forces.
“This is not fair at all,” she said of the decision to end TPS. “This is not plenty of time, because these people have roots here. They have been here for too long.”
Long enough for the Delgado family to feel that metro Phoenix is the only home they know. Since the decision was announced, Pineda and her husband have become more actively engaged within the Salvadoran community.
“Our hope is (that) Congress and the president stop playing with our dreams, our families,” she said. “There’s millions of people out there that can’t sleep at night thinking what’s going to happen tomorrow.”
Unless Congress takes legislative action to the contrary, the TPS program is scheduled to end on Sept. 9, 2019.