“TPS holders are deeply embedded in American society, and we make major contributions.”
When does “temporary” become “permanent?” For me, it’s been more than 20 years and I’m still waiting. In 2001, a devastating earthquake struck my home country of El Salvador, killing nearly 1,000 people and destroying more than 100,000 houses. That’s when I was granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the United States; I have lived here ever since.
That’s two decades ago. I now have four children, ages 20, 16, 6, and 3, all US citizens. My eldest is studying to be a sociologist. My wife is a custodian at a local high school. I worked my way from dishwashing and driving trucks to a full time paralegal position. I’ve served on the board of the Lynn Community Health Center and have coached my child’s soccer team. But the protections that allow TPS holders like me to live and work here run out on December 31, 2022. That’s one year away. It sounds like a long time. It’s not, though, when you might have to unravel your entire life. That’s why our political leaders must take action and give the nation’s 320,000 TPS holders security.
TPS was a compassionate idea when it was established in 1990. It recognized that sometimes people are displaced by armed conflict or national disaster, and they need a safe and stable place to reside. TPS holders are shielded from deportation and allowed to work legally in the U.S. We must renew our status every 18 months. But in the 30 years since the program began, no political leader has managed to give us permanent protections. That means that hundreds of thousands of families like mine have been stuck in limbo, never knowing if they would one day be deported.
TPS holders are deeply embedded in American society, and we make major contributions. We have very high employment rates. Many of us work in essential services like construction and health care—two fields that have become even more important during the pandemic. In 2017, we earned $7.3 billion and paid $891.2 million in federal taxes and $653.8 million in state and local taxes, according to New American Economy. Many Latino families vote Democratic with the belief that the Democrats will protect mixed-status families like my own, yet the Biden administration looks a lot like Obama: neither have followed through with promises.
The Republicans have recently been worse. In 2017, President Donald Trump attempted to terminate TPS for most recipients and force us to leave the U.S. Thankfully, the National TPS Alliance sued on our behalf, and we’ve been able to continue with our daily lives while the cases work their way through the judicial system. But the courts cannot grant us permanent residency; they can only keep the program from being unfairly shut down. Only an act of Congress can protect us—and our families.
Imagine life for my four children. They’re four of 270,000 American-born kids of TPS holders. Neither my oldest son Kevin, who is 20, nor my youngest daughter Valentina, who is 3, has spent any significant time in El Salvador. My wife and I cannot imagine taking our family to live there. The U.S. State Department travel warning, which tells Americans to avoid travel to El Salvador due to the high crime rate, has been in effect for years. If we’re forced to self-deport next year, how could we possibly bring our young American children with us? But how could we leave them here without us?
Time is literally running out. I am asking the Biden administration to acknowledge that this situation has gone on for too long. The White House must work with Congress to get permanent protections for TPS holders. We’ve been here all this time, providing essential services, building up our communities, paying taxes, buying houses and raising children. It’s time for the Democratic Party to keep its promises to the immigrant community and offer us the legal pathway to citizenship that is available to so many others.
José Palma is National Coordinator of the National TPS Alliance. He has lived in the greater Boston area for over 20 years.