How The Rollback Of Protections For Some Salvadoran Immigrants Will Affect Wash.

Jan 10, 2018

The Trump administration's decision not to renew temporary protections for some immigrants from El Salvador has been reverberating across the country, including in Washington state.

The Department of Homeland Security announced Monday that it would not renew a program called Temporary Protected Status, known as TPS, for El Salvador.

Here are five things you need to know about TPS and how this decision affects Washington.

What is Temporary Protected Status?

TPS is a humanitarian program that allows people fleeing disasters in their home countries to live and work in the United States. El Salvador has been part of the program since 2001 when a pair of earthquakes devastated the Central American country. Many Salvadoran immigrants were also granted TPS from 1990-1994, during the country's civil war.

How many TPS holders are there in Washington?

There are about 1,900 Salvadorans with TPS in Washington, according to the Center of Migration Studies of New York. That same report also estimates there are about 1,600 U.S.-born children here whose parents are Salvadoran TPS holders.

What happens now?

Those TPS holders have 18 months either to go back to El Salvador or to change their immigration status. It's recommended that Salvadorans looking to stay seek legal advice. There will be a workshop at Seattle Center on Feb. 3 where attorneys can answer questions. 

Immigrant advocates are criticizing the decision for three main reasons. First, many argue El Salvador is still too dangerous because of gang violence even if some institutions have been rebuilt from the earthquakes.

Second, the decision puts many families in a tough spot: Parents whose children are U.S. citizens will have to decide whether to uproot the whole family, separate from them or risk staying here illegally.

Third, some critics worry about adverse effects here in the states. TPS holders generally work and pay taxes here. There's also concern if the government eventually pursues deportation proceedings, it could exacerbate a backlog in the immigration court system.

How difficult is it for TPS holders to become legal residents?

It depends on the situation. TPS doesn't offer what's known as a path for citizenship because it's intended to be a temporary measure.

"Just because they've been here for a certain amount of time, they can't just apply based on the amount of time here," said Burien-based immigration attorney Sandy Restrepo. She also co-founded Colectiva Legal Del Pueblo, an immigrant advocacy organization.

"It has to be through a family member usually. And if there's undocumented folks in the family or their children are underage and can't petition them, then they're kind of stuck in limbo," she said.

Other forms of relief for those trying to escape violence in their home countries, such as asylum, are different from TPS. They require proof that an individual is a specific target for violence.

Restrepo says petitions for asylum from Central America are often declined because that kind of proof is difficult to get.

Are we going to hear more about this?

Yes, for two reasons. First, El Salvador isn't the first country whose TPS designation the Trump administration has terminated. The designations weren't renewed for Haiti and Nicaragua. The other country to watch is Honduras, which has the third largest population of TPS holders.

There are about 1,000 Honduran TPS holders in Washington. The country's TPS designation was up for renewal in November, but the Department of Homeland Security declined to make a decision then pending further review. An announcement on Hounduras' status is expected in July.

Second, in the press release announcing the end of the El Salvador program, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen talked about a potential "legislative solution" from Congress to provide a path for permanent legal residence for TPS holders.

That possibility is somewhat promising for some immigrant advocates. 

"I think part of what makes me optimistic is actually what I've seen being a part of the movement once DACA (Defferred Action For Childhood Arrivals) was repealed," said Roxana Norouzi, deputy director of Seattle-based OneAmerica.

"While we still don't have a bill, it has become a top priority and there is a very clear spotlight on Congress that they need to do something about this," she said.

Norouzi said she hopes the same thing could happen with TPS and lead to more comprehensive immigration reform.