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Guest Host: Dan Reed
There are 32,000 Salvadorans living in the Washington region who are recipients of temporary protected status, or TPS, a federal policy that grants permission to people fleeing their home countries in the wake of natural disasters or violence.
Despite court challenges, the Trump administration has been working to roll back TPS protections for immigrants from several countries, including El Salvador. But last week, Salvadoran recipients got a reprieve: the U.S. and Salvadoran governments reached an agreement to maintain recipient work permits and defer their deportation until one year after the legal battle is resolved.
What does all this mean for TPS holders and their families here in the D.C. area? We’ll check in.
Produced by Margaret Barthel
DAN REEDYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show. I'm Dan Reed of Greater Greater Washington sitting in for Kojo. Later in the broadcast we dive deep on a fleet of World War I era boats wrecked in the Potomac, but first, the latest on temporary protected status.
DAN REEDTPS as it's called is a federal policy that gives people from countries recovering from natural disasters or violence permission to stay and work in the United States. That includes more than 30,000 Salvadoran TPS recipients, who call the D.C. region home. Last year the Trump administration terminated TPS protections for people from El Salvador and five other countries, but that decision has been held up by legal challenges in the courts. So what's the latest on TPS and how will it affect families in our region? Joining me to discuss this today are Natalie Delgadillo, Staff Writer at DCist. Thanks for being here.
NATALIE DELGADILLOHey. Thanks for having me.
REEDWilliam Martinez, a TPS recipient and National Youth Coordinator with the National TPS Alliance, who lives in Beltsville. Thanks for being here.
WILLIAM MARTINEZThanks for having me.
REEDAnd Royce Murray, Managing Director of Programs at the American Immigration Council. Thanks for being here.
ROYCE MURRAYThank you.
REEDSo, Natalie, what is TPS exactly?
DELGADILLOSure. So TPS or Temporary Protected Status is essentially a program that's run through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. And they designate foreign countries for TPS when conditions in the home country are considered too dangerous to return to. So that can be for various reasons, generally armed conflict or an environmental disaster of some kind. And so that status protects people essentially from being deported and gives them work permits and the ability to stay with a status in the United States.
REEDCould you give us a sense of why this policy is so significant to our region?
DELGADILLOSure. So particularly for recipients from El Salvador, El Salvador has been in TPS since 2001 when a pair of earthquakes sort of devastated the country. And DHS designated the country for TPS. Salvadorans are the largest immigrant community in the D.C. area. There are 32,000 or thereabouts Salvadoran recipients of TPS living in the D.C. region at large. And that sort of doesn't even count, you know, their family members. Many of them have been here since 2001 or before that. They have children here. Some of them are probably U.S. citizens. They have entire lives that have been here.
DELGADILLOAnd, you know, also we have to think about the local economy. They make up a substantial portion of the workforce. And Steve Fuller, a professor at George Mason, who's an expert in the local economy has said that TPS holders have an 80 to 88 percent labor force participation in the D.C. region, which is really high.
DELGADILLOIt's a full 20 percentage points higher than the average in the Washington region. So it could have some pretty large effects in the local economy as well.
REEDSo people who have been living here for decades under certain TPS policies including all of those people from El Salvador have suddenly faced a lot of uncertainty in the last few years. Why is that?
DELGADILLOSo the Trump administration basically made a move to eliminate TPS for recipients from El Salvador in January 2018. He's also, as you mentioned in the opening tried to do that for several other countries as well. And there's been an injunction in the courts essentially that stopped them from actually doing that.
REEDSo, Royce, last week there were some news that made things a little more certain at least for a while. What happened?
MURRAYWell, last week there was good news that the six countries that had their TPS terminated by this administration had their work permits and their permission to be here extended by a period up to January 4th of 2021. There was -- essentially allowing people to continue to support their families and work at their jobs until that time. This was permitted, because of the ongoing litigation. And the court is requiring that the Department of Homeland Security allow these people to continue to stay here while the litigation is pending.
REEDRoyce, you study immigration policy. And as we mentioned earlier the broader context for this extension of work permits for TPS holders is coming against the administration's attempt to terminate the program for six countries including El Salvador for good. What's the administration's argument for why this is the time to do so?
MURRAYI mean, I think the administration has come at the decision making around Temporary Protected Status with an agenda. I think they've made clear that they think that the program has lasted too long and is no longer merited. Despite the fact that all of these countries have continued problems on the ground related to, as was mentioned, natural disasters, violence, instability that really make it unsafe for people to go back.
REEDWhat are these six countries? And when did the administration announce this decision to end TPS?
MURRAYWell, the six countries are El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua and Sudan. And that represents about 97-98 percent of all of the TPS beneficiaries, all of the people who had TPS at the start of the administration. So while a few small countries still remain with TPS it's really very few people. This really affected virtually all of the TPS holders. And those decisions are made on a rolling basis as the different countries designations are due to expire. The administration has to revisit and make those decisions, but soon after the litigation has followed to put those decisions on hold.
REEDAnd just to be clear, all six countries got the same date of January 4, 2021 for their work permits to expire. But there's still a distinction between the TPS recipients from El Salvador and the other five countries, right?
MURRAYThat's right. It's caused a fair bit of confusion over this past week. Essentially all six of those countries received that January 4, 2021 date. But what they're doing is automatically extending the work permits that people have. So on their face they will have old expiration dates, but when combined with the federal register notice where they published this announcement they will have proof that their work permits last until January 4th of 2021. The hitch is that El Salvador basically has that date locked in whereas the other countries are only guaranteed six months. So basically if the litigation wraps up on the sooner side the administration has reserved the right to really only give six months to those other countries. El Salvador has locked in a full year. So there's more time to transition and wind down if that's what happens in the courts.
REEDNatalie, in the case of El Salvador there was some confusion at first when the news was announced. Some of the officials didn't have their stories straight. Could you tell us about that?
DELGADILLOYeah. So that's partially, I think, what Royce is referring to. Last year -- or sorry, last week, last Monday when this was announced, Salvadorian President Nayib Bukele and U.S. Ambassador posted a video on Tweeter essentially announcing a yearlong extension of TPS. So as far as we knew that morning that was the news. That TPS had been extended for another year, but a couple of hours later I would say, the acting Director of USCIS, Kent Cuccinelli tweeted out a clarification saying, you know, there's been some reporting that there is an extension of TPS. In fact, that has an important legal meaning and that's not what happened. That's not what the two countries agreed to today.
DELGADILLOWhat we agreed to was to extend the work permit for a year after the resolution of the litigation that's going on surrounding TPS. So there was sort of this important distinction that was made in the morning and it confused and rattled some folks I think.
REEDRoyce, why do you think Kent Cuccinelli quibbled with that word choice around extension?
MURRAYI think they are really set on trying to stick to the decision that they had terminated this status even though it's ruling out with these extensions because of the litigation. And I think he wanted to make clear that the court hadn't overruled that decision yet. That the administration hadn't been forced to reverse course exactly and that termination was still the sort of agenda and the plan that they were going to stick with. But as a practical matter for most people there's not a real meaningful distinction because the benefits of TPS will continue.
REEDWe're also here today with William Martinez, who is a TPS recipient and National Youth Coordinator with the National TPS Alliance. Thanks for being here today.
MARTINEZOnce again, thank you for having me.
REEDAs someone directly affected by all this what has been your reaction to this news?
MARTINEZWell, I'm 27 years old at the time -- last year when TPS was ended by the administration. I was in a mood where I was depressed and sad, right, because for the 19 years that I've been in this country TPS has given me that privilege to go to school here, go to college here, go into the workforce and get a job. And with that, you know, it allowed me to meet one of my goals, which was having a home at 25, of buying a car at 25. So when that terminated -- when TPS was terminated for El Salvador it really, you know, gave me a reality check. And then I came across with the National TPS Alliance where they were already organizing and I got really involved and they've been doing some really great work since.
REEDCould you tell us a little bit about how you ended up here in the U.S. on TPS?
MARTINEZWell, I came to the United States with my parents. We were on vacation in late 2000 and the earthquake in El Salvador happened. And then the opportunity presented itself where I already had family members here that weren't sure that we should have gone back to El Salvador. And when TPS, you know, presented itself, we took the opportunity, and it's been a blessing since.
REEDWe've got a call from Reggie. Reggie, you're on the air.
REGGIEYeah, hi. I was listening to the young man I, you know, I feel for him, but I want to know if the program does stand for temporary status. And at what point is, you know, the United States of America responsible for, you know, taking care of everybody, you know, who -- you know, forever who's had some sort of a mishap in their life. You know, at what point do the governments' own up to some of the responsibility? We've got people here in the States that are U.S. citizens, U.S. citizens that aren't being cared for. So I mean, what makes -- I don't know why that's more important than people, who are already here who are already not being taken care of the government?
REEDThank you, Reggie. Royce, what is the government's responsibility?
MURRAYWell, let be clear that temporary protected status is not a benefit's program. It just protects people from being deported and lets them support themselves here in the United States while they can't go back. And while I agree everyone needs to be supported so that they and their families can thrive, TPS holders are no exception. And unfortunately, the TPS laws are limited in that they don't recognize that some conditions last a really long time. And so what we need to be talking about now is for people like William and his family who have been here for so many years who own homes who have had jobs who just are part of our communities, how do we enable them to stay? And temporary status may not be right a whole lot longer. And we need a permanent solution so that people whose lives are here can stay here.
REEDWilliam, what would it mean for your family if TPS is revoked?
MARTINEZI really can't -- and I speak for all TPS holders. I think we really can't afford to think like that. I think we've come a long way in the past two years since, you know, since TPS has been terminated. And I think we're ready for a permanent solution. I think that's the main focus. You know, what's temporary about, you know, families, who have had their businesses here who have U.S. citizen children here, who will be forced to go back to their parents' home countries that they know nothing about or stay in the United States as orphans.
REEDSo this announcement actually galvanized you to get into activism around TPS with the Nationals TPS Alliance. Could you talk a little bit about what they do and what you've done so far with them?
MARTINEZYes. In the National TPS Alliance like I said I came across it and I got involved in February of '18. And when I got involved -- I think I've lived here in the Maryland and D.C. area for like 19 years now. When I got involved, it was probably the first time I went to Capitol Hill. And I started doing some lobbying and we met with Democrats and Republicans. And I think it was the first time seeing how our government worked. You know, we were -- you know, some people would let us in their offices and some people would take meetings outside in the hallways. So it was really interesting. It's been an apprenticeship that until today. And it's something that has inspired me to continue fighting for a primary solution. We have also done marches in Washington D.C. I was able to participate in February where we had like 5,000 people to march here in Washington D.C.
MARTINEZAnd I was also involved in the 12 week tour, "Our Journeys for Justice Campaign," which we traveled through 32 states and 70 cities to lift up the profile of TPS and not just for myself, but for over 400,000 families who are directly impacted by it.
REEDNatalie, William isn't alone in having a family with people, who are TPS holders and some who are U.S. citizens. What do we know about how many people are related to TPS holders in the D.C. area?
DELGADILLOWell, we know that there are about 32,000 Salvadoran TPS recipients in the D.C. area. There's really no telling how large their families are and also it's hard to quantify something like that, right? It's not just people that are directly related to them like their children, but also the community that they build and all the people that would be affected if they left. So there's no hard number really. There are also numbers. There are about 200,000 Salvadoran immigrants in the D.C. region at large.
REEDOf those people, you know, what was the local reaction here in D.C. to the ending of TPS for Salvadorans?
DELGADILLOI spoke to a couple of TPS recipients, whose sort of major reaction right upon hearing the news was one of relief, which is quite understandable. They sort of expressed, you know, feeling less of a weight pressing right on top of them knowing that they at least have this other year for something more permanent to be figured out. But there were also lots of suggestions from, you know, community advocates, from Mayor Bowser, who released a statement on this, that this is another sort of Band-Aid or like a temporary solution to something that they hope will be figured out in a more permanent way soon.
REEDRoyce, do we know what might happen to children who are U.S. citizens, for example, but have one or both parents who are here on TPS?
MURRAYWell, we can't deport U.S. citizens. And so families are going to be faced with very difficult decisions about where those children go. Will they travel back home with a family, with parents, who can no longer stay here or will they remain here with other relatives or God forbid end up in the foster care system? I mean, unfortunately, you have -- it's not uncommon for U.S. citizen children whose parents are deported to end up in the foster care system. So I know that family separation was something that really upset and angered many people last year when we saw the crisis at the border. This is another coming crisis of family separation given how many people are TPS holders. And across the country, I know the number was talked about in this area. But across the country there are over 270,000 U.S. born children of TPS holders. That's a lot of risk for those children going forward.
REEDWe've got an email from Yadira a TPS holder from El Salvador who says, what can Congress do to find a solution?
MURRAYWell, as I said before we definitely need a permanent solution for people whose lives are here. And the House has passed HR6, the American Dream and Promise Act that looks for a way forward that says, people who have been here a long time who have been long vetted who have been working and paying taxes and have lives and families here deserve to stay. And I think that, you know, we need for Congress to take this seriously and urgently so that we're not just continually kicking the can down the road and giving people these temporary extensions, because it's very hard to live your life in six in 12 month increments, and I think for everyone's sake and for the local economy's sake and for communities sake we need a permanent fix.
REEDSo we've mentioned that the administration's attempt to end TPS has been challenged in the courts. What are those lawsuits seeking to resolve?
MURRAYThe lawsuits are challenging the way in which the decisions to terminate TPS were made. And essentially they're making -- I mean, there are six different lawsuits challenging the different terminations, each one benefiting different countries. But essentially they're saying two things, one that the decisions were discriminatory, that there was a racial animus behind these decisions. That there was a sense that these -- nationals of these countries were not people that the administration wanted to continue to permit to stay here. The second legal argument being made in litigation is that they didn't follow the Administrative Procedures Act, which is essentially saying they've changed the way in which they've made decisions. They didn't take an honest look at country conditions back home to see that it was safe for people to go back.
REEDRoyce Murray is Managing Director of Programs at the American Immigration Council. Thanks for being here.
REEDNatalie Delgadillo is a Staff Writer at DCist. Thanks for being here.
DELGADILLOThanks so much.
REEDAnd William Martinez is a TPS recipient and National Youth Coordinator with the National TPS Alliance. Thank you for being here.
MARTINEZThank you for having me.
REEDWe'll continue our conversation after a short break. Please stay tuned.
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