Local activists continue to advocate for Temporary Protected Status (TPS)

Local activists continue to advocate for Temporary Protected Status (TPS)

A recent federal court ruling poses a threat to Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for immigrants. Salvadorans are the largest immigrant population in D.C. and El Salvador is the country with the most TPS beneficiaries.

How is this potential loss impacting the approximately 200,000 Salvadorans in the DMV? And what are local efforts to protect this status?

Produced by Inés Rénique


  • Abel Núñez Executive Director, Central American Resource Center (CARECEN)
  • Patrick Scallen Historian and Professor, George Washington University and Catholic University


  • 12:00:03

    KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Later in the broadcast it's Kojo for Kids when we'll talk with Andy Phelps, a Video Game Designer and Director of American University's Game Lab. But first, earlier this month a federal appeals court affectively gave the okay to the Trump administration's plan to terminate Temporary Protected Status, TPS. The status was created 30 years ago and applied to certain countries enduring ongoing conflict.

  • 12:00:30

    KOJO NNAMDIOur area is home to the country's second largest Salvadoran community, around 200,000 Salvadorans in our region. More than 30,000 of them are TPS recipients. Joining me now to discuss what it means is Abel Núñez, Executive Director of the Central American Resource Center, CARECEN. Abel, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:00:51

    ABEL NÚÑEZThank you for having me, Kojo.

  • 12:00:54

    NNAMDIAbel, before anything, can you tell us a little bit about the organization CARECEN?

  • 12:00:58

    NÚÑEZYes. Well, CARECEN is an organization that was created in the early 80s as the inflow of Central Americans were coming from to the region due to the civil wars. Over the years it has provided social services and advocacy to ensure that our community can integrate. And so we continue to do that work through our housing program, our citizenship program and our legal immigration program.

  • 12:01:24

    NNAMDIWhat is Temporary Protected Status? How and why was it created? And what protections does it provide?

  • 12:01:31

    NÚÑEZYeah. So in 1990 a law was approved by then President Bush that basically gave the authority to the executive, to the president, to protect nationals that were in the country already here in the United States whenever there was what they called a manmade disaster or a natural disaster. So Salvadorans have been -- or the current group of Salvadorans are in the status when there was the earthquakes in 2001, Haitians for their earthquake. And basically what the law says is that for 18 months the U.S. will provide humanitarian protection that does not lead to a permanent status, but will allow those beneficiaries the ability to work legally in the U.S. and the ability to be protected from deportation.

  • 12:02:27

    NÚÑEZNow, that status is reviewed every 18 months and then the executive makes a decision whether to continue it or end it. And for Salvadorans, Hondurans, Nicaraguans, Haitians, there had been a multitude of extensions, because part of what the law states as it was approved by Congress is that not only does the conflict need to exist or the reason why, but also that the country can absorb its nationals. And they get reports from the embassies, from the state department and from many other agencies to then lead to a decision to cancel or extend.

  • 12:03:12

    NNAMDIWhat have those multiple extensions meant for local recipients?

  • 12:03:17

    NÚÑEZWell, for the people that are in the program it's really an imperfect way of being in this country, because it means that every 18 months everyone that's in the program has to register, which also includes a background check. So that means that every 18 months everyone that's in the program has had their fingerprints taken, has been run an FBI check to make sure that they haven't committed any crimes. The people in the program must adhere to strict rules of reporting, making sure they're filing taxes if they're employed.

  • 12:03:57

    NÚÑEZAnd so it has been an imperfect way of being in this country, because although they are able to work and be free and purchase property they also have certain limitations. They really don't get any assistance for education. They really can't travel outside of the U.S. There are particular ways, but very limited. And so, you know, they're given the ability to work and that's about it. And stay legally in the country. But TPS in and of itself does not allow -- there is no bridge to legal permanent status, right? So they will always remain in that program as it gets extended.

  • 12:04:36

    NNAMDIAbel, tell us about the federal appeals court ruling a few days ago. What is this case and what happened?

  • 12:04:41

    NÚÑEZYes, so, actually in 2019, President Trump ended the program. He ended the program for Haitians, Salvadorans, Hondurans, Nicaraguans and several other nations that are protected. There are currently 10 nations that are under this protection. And so but when they ended the protection several groups got together and filed a lawsuit basically challenging the reason why he ended it that was inappropriate and two that in the way he ended it there was some racial bias by it.

  • 12:05:22

    NÚÑEZAnd so the lawsuit has been going through the courts. And what we heard a couple of weeks ago was the decision in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals where was this case was at basically stating that they sided with the administration basically saying that they, the lower court had no standing in actually adjudicating this type of case, because the president has full authority. And that they found that although the administration has said racist comments and may have even racist policies that that in it of itself was not the reason that he canceled the program. So basically it ratifies the decision of the executive to be able to terminate the program as of last year.

  • 12:06:15

    NNAMDIWell, the Trump administration argues that the circumstances such as natural disasters or famine are now years or even decades in the past and protection is therefore no longer needed. What is your response to that argument?

  • 12:06:31

    NÚÑEZWell, part of the law stipulates that they need to verify what are the current conditions and if those nations could actually absorb their nationals. Given the economic violent conditions some of it stemming from multiple reasons including the natural disasters, these countries have not been able to fully recover and they're still dealing with those legacies. Now those countries may have already been dealing with other legacies of oppression, political strife or upheaval and you add a natural disaster. And unfortunately the country is unable to receive its nationals, which is one of the components that needed to be understood as he was making -- or the president was making the decision to terminate the program.

  • 12:07:22

    NNAMDIWell, some critics of the Temporary Protected Status like the Trump administration take issue with the fact that temporary is stretching into decades for Salvadorians with no permanent resolution. How would you like to see it resolved?

  • 12:07:38

    NÚÑEZWell, I think that, you know, the temporary aspect of it is not the, you know, something that the beneficiaries have chosen. So when you look at the program -- and Salvadorans have had TPS twice, one in 1990 for different reasons and in 2001 for the earthquake that occurred in the nation, for example, right? But the second group, when they applied, the first group was 250,000, so over the years that number has gone down. We currently have about 190,000, because those that have found other ways to adjust have adjusted status.

  • 12:08:19

    NÚÑEZBut unfortunately, the way our immigration laws are written there's not a lot of paths for legalization for this group. And you have a group that has been in this country, established roots, has provided resources via tax base and their labor. And I think that they have earned the right to be adjusted to a legal permanent status and then given the opportunity if they so choose to become American citizens, right?

  • 12:08:50


  • 12:08:51

    NÚÑEZThey have children that were born here. And so it's really difficult to say, you know, what? We just need to send them back. A country, which by the way, most of them have not lived in for all of this time, and no longer have the necessary networks to be successful.

  • 12:09:07

    NNAMDIAbel, what does this federal appeals court ruling mean in the practical sense for local Salvadorans and others with TPS status? How and when will those under TPS see any changes to their status?

  • 12:09:19

    NÚÑEZYes. So right now in the immediate future nothing changes for the TPS beneficiaries. They still remain protected. They can still, you know, access driver's license and any of the other benefits they had before. Now there are still some legal maneuvers that can happen. They can appeal to the court again to get a full review instead of a summary review that may change it. And they also have the ability to petition the Supreme Court to hear the case.

  • 12:09:51

    NÚÑEZHaving said that, assuming that none of those paths leads to a change in decision, the way that the Department of Homeland Security and the way the court's decisions work, the earliest that anybody would lose their protection would be March of 2021. And that would include Haitians, Sudanese, all the groups -- Nicaraguans, as well, all the group except Salvadorans, because that group is so large, they have extended the time of losing protection until November 2021. That's when they will be losing protection.

  • 12:10:31


  • 12:10:32

    NÚÑEZHaving said that there are also a couple of other lawsuits in the courts in Massachusetts and actually Maryland that are challenging the TPS termination. So there's still a lot of legal, you know, judicial wrangling that needs to happen before we know the final conclusion.

  • 12:10:53

    NNAMDIWho are the Salvadoran TPS beneficiaries in this area? What do they do?

  • 12:10:59

    NÚÑEZThey're like -- they made of mainly the overall immigrant population particularly the Central American migration. They're hyper concentrated in both hospitality and the restaurant, but they also are part of the essential workforce such as construction, cleaning even medical services. And so, you know, just to give you an example, some of that numbers that we've heard from construction companies TPS beneficiaries in the D.C. area make up about 20 percent of their workforce. And this is high level workers that have been trained over the years that are foreman, operators and so it would be a detriment to those companies to lose them, but there are also a community that has been in this area for a very long time. The average time that they were in the country prior to coming in --

  • 12:11:55

    NNAMDIOnly about 10 seconds left in this segment.

  • 12:11:58

    NÚÑEZSo TPS is, you know -- and the time that they've been TPS you have people that have been here for over 20 years and have established roots.

  • 12:12:06


  • 12:12:07

    NÚÑEZBought homes and are part of our community.

  • 12:12:09

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break, when we come back we'll continue this conversation on Temporary Protected Status, but you can still give us a call 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:12:32

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We are discussing the Trump administration's effort to end the TPS program and that is the Temporary Protected Status program, which benefits Salvadorans, Haitians, Sudanese and people from other -- Nicaraguans and people from other countries. We're talking today about what it will mean in particular for local Salvadorans to discuss the long history of Salvadorans in the D.C. region I'd like to bring in Patrick Scallen. He is a Historian and Professor at both George Washington and Catholic universities. Dr. Scallen, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:13:05

    PATRICK SCALLENThank you for having me, Kojo.

  • 12:13:07

    NNAMDITell us a little bit about your work.

  • 12:13:10

    SCALLENSo my work is based on the Salvadoran immigrant community in Washington D.C. particularly and the DMV in general. And I've been studying the Salvadoran immigrant community here, their origins, their evolution and how the community has evolved over the course of the past I'd say three to four decades, so looking at 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

  • 12:13:32

    NNAMDIWhen was TPS first established and why is El Salvador the country with the most TPS recipients?

  • 12:13:39

    SCALLENSo TPS actually has its origins back in the 1980s and that was when Representative Joseph Moakley from Massachusetts partnered up with Senator Dennis DeConcini from Arizona. And they got together and tried to push through something called EVD, which is extended voluntary departure. And that was the initial push to obtain some type of temporary stay of deportation for those Salvadorans, who were fleeing because of the Salvadoran civil war, which was promoted and promulgated in part by the U.S. government.

  • 12:14:15

    SCALLENAnd so the -- I think it started in 1983. Moakley and DeConcini passed a number of different bills through the House. Never made it through the Senate and they knew that Reagan was going to veto it if they did. And that really came up to, you know, that brought us up to the late 1980s and early 1990s where this idea of extended voluntarily departure was then folded into the Immigration Bill of 1990, which was sponsored by Ted Kennedy.

  • 12:14:48

    SCALLENAnd so this was really a part of, it was a legislative act that was not -- they knew Reagan was going to veto. But then when Bush got into office there was a bit more flexibility in that respect. And so Bush was able to -- they folded into the 1990 Immigration Act.

  • 12:15:03

    NNAMDISo what were the long terms goals for TPS back when activists first fought for these protections?

  • 12:15:10

    SCALLENYou know, I mean, the long term -- initially when they started fighting and really as Abel was saying that a lot of the Central American activists particularly the Salvadoran activists in D.C. were the driving force behind the passage of TPS. And really when they were fighting initially in the 80s it was just a temporary stay of deportation, right? They were trying to halt those folks who they had fought for, who were being deported by then Immigration and Nationalize Services. And so that was initially -- it was just a stop gap measure. And it was never intended to be a long term measure at all.

  • 12:15:48

    SCALLENIn fact, when it was passed in 1990, again, it was an 18 month deal that was a stop gap measure assuming that there was going to be comprehensive immigration reform at some point in the future.

  • 12:16:00

    NNAMDIIs there a difference between the TPS status that was granted to Salvadorans and the status that was granted to Salvadorans who were fleeing violent gang activity in their own communities in El Salvador?

  • 12:16:14

    SCALLENThat's a great question. I mean, initially when Salvadorans were fleeing, they were fleeing the civil war, right, and political violence. And when they came to the United States the Reagan administration and then the Bush administration after that denied the vast majority of them political asylum. In fact, about 98 percent of Salvadorans were denied political asylum if they had the temerity to actually apply.

  • 12:16:37

    SCALLENAnd so the gang problems really didn't come around until a little bit later. The gang problems were -- kind of a direct result of the fleeing of Salvadorans to the United States not having any specific way of establishing community or family especially if you have young males. And some of those gangs really started in L.A. And so they came from L.A. back to El Salvador after the civil war. The U.S. essentially deported a bunch of, you know, hardened gang bangers, dumped them on the streets of San Salvador, which is the post-conflict zone, and there you have the evolution of what we now know as the gang problem in Central America.

  • 12:17:19

    NNAMDIHere now is Ben in Hyattsville, Maryland. Ben, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:17:25

    BENYes, yes. Thank you, Kojo. I just had two questions. First how can I as an individual citizen support the immigrants and support TPS? I'm totally in favor of it, and I just feel it's really an important issue. And the other thing is I did a little bit of searching on the web. I was just looking in general about TPS and there was a reference to a march, I guess, a protest march that I guess has already started in Los Angeles that is heading east. And I was wondering if I had that right. And if so, if it was going to end in D.C. and if there was any timeframe or way I could support that march?

  • 12:18:08

    NNAMDIAbel Núñez.

  • 12:18:09

    NÚÑEZYes. So thank you. I mean, I think that part of the way that you can support immigrants is by connecting to the organizations that represent them. There are many organizations. My organization is one of them, but there are others that provide a lot of the support. I think that the other piece is just understanding how immigration law works. I mean, I know that's a lot. But I think it's very confusing and a lot of people sort of, you know, go to the default and say, why don't they just apply? Because it's not that easy.

  • 12:18:37

    NÚÑEZIf they could, they would have. And then to specifically speak to the caravan. Yeah, so there has been a movement by actually TPS beneficiaries that has sort of taken off after the attacks of that. It was campaign that started to get them legal permanent residence, because we would need congressional action. But now this movement has grown and they have a really active -- and ensuring that they're active in the Ramos case. It just got decided that we were talking about earlier in this show.

  • 12:19:07

    NÚÑEZAnd they are doing a multicity tour. What I can do is I can put information on our website that you can reach out. But they will have events both here and in other parts of the East Coast. But the other good place is just search for TPS on Facebook and you will be probably find their page there.

  • 12:19:31

    NNAMDIThank you very much for you call, Ben. Patrick, why in three decades has the Temporary Status of TPS recipients never been addressed, say with, green cards?

  • 12:19:43

    SCALLENWell, I mean, a lot of it has to do with the legislative process and the inability of the United States Congress to come up with a comprehensive plan for immigration reform. And, you know, that has everything to do with international geopolitics, to local, you know, domestic politics and everything in between really. It has, you know, TPS has kind of ebbed and flowed over the course of -- ever since it was put into place in 1990. And, you know, after it expired then it was extended a little bit more. And then it ebbed and flowed after that. And then different countries were included. And then different countries were excluded.

  • 12:20:20

    SCALLENSo it's not just Salvadorans even though Salvadorans are the primary recipients of TPS. And then we get to -- you know, you're really into the 2000s when you have push for immigration reform by the George W. Bush administration that stalls. And it's really the inability of Congress to find a legislative solution to comprehensive immigration reform that has kept it from, you know, progressing past this 18 month temporary status.

  • 12:20:49

    NNAMDIHere now is Ben -- or Tom in Restin, Virginia. Tom, we only have about a minute left. But go ahead, please.

  • 12:20:56

    TOMOh, okay. Well, the heart of what I have to say is that I feel like from Central America to Mexico to the U.S. that we're shared cultures and they're Americans. And I think we need to take responsibility for the refugees that we have created. In El Salvador we have C-130 gunships strafing corn fields trying to demoralize the citizens. And in Guatemala we armed the military there that killed 200,000 indigenous people. And more recently in 2009 we overthrew the Honduran government.

  • 12:21:37

    NNAMDITom, I don't have a great deal of time, but you obviously make a good argument. A lot of people do make that argument. But Abel, in the time we have left, if the 30,000 Salvadoran TPS recipients are here in this area are forcibly returned to El Salvador, what repercussions, what consequences might we see?

  • 12:21:56

    NÚÑEZWell, I think that locally, you know, it will take a hit in the economy. A lot of these people are business owners, are homeowners, but they're also employed by huge companies like construction and I think all of those services would be impacted. I think in the country of origin it would create a situation that they would be targets of violence, because they'll be seen as ...

  • 12:22:14

    NNAMDIOkay. Only got about 20 seconds.

  • 12:22:18

    NÚÑEZYes. And so I think it's both bad for us here locally, but it's also bad for the countries of origin that are not ready to integrate their incoming nationals.

  • 12:22:28

    NNAMDIAbel Núñez, Patrick Scallen, thank you both for joining us. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, it's Kojo for Kids video games. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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