On an already gloomy and rainy day in San Francisco, Salvadorans with temporary protected status in the city learned that they may be forced to leave the country by September of 2019, Trump’s administration announced Monday.
The Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program allowed Salvadorans to live and work in the United States after a devastating 2001 earthquake in their home country. The Department of Homeland Security’s statement said, “the substantial disruption of living conditions caused by the earthquake no longer exist.”
“Salvadorans knew it was coming,” said Laura Sanchez, director of the immigration program at the Central American Resource Center, a nonprofit social services center for Central American immigrants known as CARECEN.
Ninety minutes after CARECEN opened its doors Monday morning, seven Salvadorans had already called, concerned about their status. It’s unclear how many Salvadorans with temporary status live in the Bay Area.
Last November, the Department of Homeland Security ended TPS for 60,000 Haitians and 2,500 Nicaraguans who arrived after natural disasters in their countries, according to the Washington Post.
However, Salvadorans were the largest immigrant group benefiting from the protected status, with an estimated 195,000 living in the United States; another 273,000 U.S. citizens have a parent with protected status.
Ending the program means that Salvadorans will have to obtain legal status before Sept. 9, 2019.
Enjoying her lunch at Panchitas, a Salvadoran restaurant on 16th Street, Daisy Garcia, a Salvadoran native and U.S. resident, says she’s thought about the news she first heard it. Garcia, 38, has been in the country 15 years and has resident status.
“The life over there [El Salvador] is horrible,” Garcia said.
Jamie Gonzalez, 50, owner of Elsy’s, a Salvadoran restaurant on Mission Street and a U.S. citizen, says he couldn’t imagine being forced to go back to his home country.
“My family and workers depend on me,” Gonzalez said.
At La Santaneca de La Mission, a Salvadoran restaurant on Mission Street, José, 25, a Salvadoran native who has only been living in the United States for three years says he can’t imagine going back to his country because “there isn’t the same opportunity over there.”
Before the Sept. 9, 2019 deadline, Ricardo Calderon, a senior paralegal at CARECEN, says the affected have several options.
Calderon said the likelihood of someone being able to stay depends on how long they have been in the United States, whether they have close family members who are residents or citizens, and if they have a criminal record.
If they meet that criteria and have an open case in U.S. immigrant court, they can apply for a “cancellation of removal,” which grants them a green card. However, immigration judges can only approve 4,000 of these cases per year.
They can also apply for asylum, if they can prove they fear persecution in El Salvador.
According to the American Immigration Council, in 2014 about 470 Salvadorans were granted asylum. However, with the news of the end of temporary protected status, that number could increase as more Salvadorans apply. In 2016, the U.S. Immigration Court was backlogged, with more than 620,000 cases pending.
The Department of Homeland Security says the 18-month period from now until Sept. 2019 will allow Congress to choose to legislate a permanent solution for those with temporary protected status.
Maria Elena Fuentes, a receptionist at CARECEN, is encouraging callers to drop by their office on Mission Street to seek legal guidance. She says she expects more people to call and visit, but it usually takes some time before news spreads in the community.