Ending of Temporary Protected Status for refugees shocks local Latinos

ORANGE/EAST ORANGE, NJ — On Monday, Jan. 8, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that the current administration will be putting an end to the Temporary Protected Status humanitarian program almost 200,000 refugees from the Central American country of El Salvador had been using to legally live and work in the United States since 2001, when two earthquakes devastated the country.

Federal DHS officials previously have extended the TPS program, however, the Trump administration does not appear to be inclined to continue this policy, which has some local Latino community leaders in Orange and East Orange concerned. The protections, which were slated to end Friday, Jan. 5, but have been extended to Thursday, July 5.

“The Salvadoran community of the city of Orange township and all of the United States is very concerned about this decision made by the Trump administration, since these could divide the families,” said Hispanos Mano A Mano President Cristina Mateo on Tuesday, Jan. 9, after she heard the news about the apparent shift in recent immigration policy. “There are 196,000 Salvadorans under the migration program called TPS; 200,000 children born here in the U.S.A. Families could be divided.”

On top of that, Mateo and others, including Miryam Torres of the group Hispanics For Progress of Essex County, which is based in East Orange, said there are other humanitarian issues at stake, when it comes to ending TPS protection for El Salvadorans currently living and working in the United States.

“El Salvador is not ready to have this many people back on their soil,” said Mateo on Monday, Jan. 8. “There are social economic problems. The children of parents with TPS status are American citizens and only know the United States as their country.”

Mateo said: “The Salvadoran leaders are calling on the Salvadoran community that resides in our area to remain calm.” She ended her remarks on the current Salvadoran TPS issue by stating: “God bless our hardworking people who contribute greatly to the U.S. economy and society.”

Torres picked right up where Mateo left off in her comments about the current TPS policy shift.

“It is a sad day for Latinos of Salvadoran origin,” said Torres on Monday, Jan. 8. “This merciless announcement creates fear and anguish to people who are here protected by the Temporary Protected Status. Salvadorian are hardworking people, family-oriented and productive community members.”

Torres also agreed that the Trump administration’s shift in recent national federal immigration policy standards would have profound local consequences.

“The Oranges would be greatly affected if this massive deportation of Salvadorans takes effect,” said Torres. “There are many businesses owned by Salvadorans. The city would be definitely economically affected, if these people have to leave.”

Torres ended her remarks about the Trump administration TPS policy shift on a hopeful, conciliatory note, saying, “Let’s hope President Trump has a change of heart and allow people without any criminal record to remain here, live a productive life for them and their families, and contribute to the economy of this great country.”

But Leda Melara, one of the thousands of Latinos, including Salvadorans, Hondurans, Nicaraguans and others, who gathered in the city of Orange Township for the ninth annual Festival de Orange on South Day Street on Saturday, Sept. 23, and Sunday, Sept. 24, during Hispanic Heritage Month, was not feeling quite as optimistic as Torres on Monday, Jan. 8.

“Totally devastating to our community,” said Melara, on Monday, Jan. 8. “We are hardworking people who just want a chance to live safely and earn a living, something our home country cannot provide at this time. The 200,000 people affected have proved themselves by paying taxes, reporting as instructed, living by the law in every sense; but this heartless administration still says: ‘It’s not enough, you gotta go back.’ No humanitarian approach. It really saddens me.”

Immigrants from other Caribbean and Central American countries, including Haiti, Honduras and Nicaragua, have also benefited through the years from the TPS program, which protected them from deportation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement if they had arrived in the United States illegally. Last year, 2,500 Nicaraguans lost their TPS protections and, a few weeks ago, 45,000 Haitians lost the protections that had been granted after the 2010 earthquake that devastated their island homeland.