In January of 2001, a devastating earthquake hit the Central American country of El Salvador. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, at least 844 people were killed, 4,723 injured, 108,226 houses destroyed and more than 150,000 buildings damaged. The earthquake caused approximately 16,000 landslides. Another earthquake with similar consequences occurred in February of the very same year.
The George W. Bush Administration granted the citizens of El Salvador Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to help nationals of certain countries. Those affected by national disaster or extreme and dangerous situations could then come to the United States. Countries that are on the TPS qualifying list include: El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Haiti, Sudan, South Sudan, and Somalia.
On March 9, 2001, TPS was granted to Salvadorans. A person’s TPS is granted on an 18-month renewal basis and is dictated by the country’s current conditions. TPS was recently extended to Salvadorans through September 9, 2013 when the program will be reevaluated. TPS, however, does not lead to a path for residency or citizenship. In order for a Salvadoran to have applied for TPS, he or she must have been living in the United States before February 13, 2001. Thus, a Salvadoran must have been living in the United States prior to the date TPS was granted. Today, Salvadorans are the second largest nationality of Latinos living in the United States, Mexicans being the largest group.
My friend Ana’s father came to the United States on a 6-month work visa because he lost his job in El Salvador. He was in the United States in 2001 when the Bush administration passed TPS for his country. Ana, her mother, and her sister arrived in the U.S. later in the year on tourist visas to reunite the family and to rid themselves of hard economic times. There was also gang violence and natural disasters in their native country and they also sought to make a better life for themselves in the U.S. Since they were not in this country in February of 2001, however, Ana, her mother and sister were not able to apply for TPS.
Conditions have not improved in El Salvador. Many had hoped after 10 years there would be an opportunity for Salvadorans to become legal residents, but that is not the case. Salvadoran residents must reapply every 18 months for the opportunity to continue to live in the United States.
This situation has left Ana and her family in limbo, wondering if her father’s TPS will be renewed. Today, Ana, her sister and mother are undocumented persons living in this country, as their tourist visas have expired. In spite of their temporary status, the family has worked hard to make a life for themselves in the U.S. Ana attended community college after high school and received an associate’s degree in Information Systems. She is currently paying out-of-state tuition to a state supported four-year university, in the same state as she resides, to earn a bachelor’s degree in math. Ana’s dream is to become a high school math teacher. Unless immigration laws change, however, she will never be able to achieve her goal as there is no current legal pathway for residency for her or her family short of returning to El Salvador and applying again to migrate to this country.
In summary, like many Latinos living in the United States, Ana and her family migrated to this here in search for economic stability, the opportunity to work and have a better life. Yet, many find themselves living with uncertainty and fear of being deported since a legal pathway for citizenship does not currently exist while continuing to live in this country. Comprehensive immigration reform needs to be a priority in the United States.
For many, immigrating to the United States was their only option for survival and a hope for a future. The many immigrants who come to the United States legally on a tourist or temporary work visas do not have the option to legally stay. I believe everyone should have the opportunity to live in this country and pursue the American dream if they so choose.
Elizabeth Murray, a native of Johns Creek, GA, is a first year Master of Divinity student at Duke Divinity School. She graduated in May from the University of South Carolina with a business degree and is a certified candidate for ministry in the United Methodist Church. She plans to go into social justice ministry.
Please note that the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of everyone associated with G92 or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.
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