Democratic Congressman David Price fired back at a Department of Homeland Security decision Monday ending legal protection for roughly 200,000 immigrants from El Salvador living in the United States.
The move to end Temporary Protected Status affects people who have lived here for more than 15 years. It comes with an 18-month delay, giving the immigrants until Sept. 9, 2019, to find another way to stay in the country or to prepare to leave.
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“This heartless decision would tear apart nearly 200,000 El Salvadoran families, sending them back to communities experiencing deep unrest and suffering,” Price, who represents the 4th District in Orange, Durham and Wake counties, said on Twitter.
“I urge the Trump administration to extend TPS for Salvadoran families seeking refuge in the U.S.,” he said.
Durham-based El Centro Hispano said in a release Monday that 5,900 Salvadorans are TPS recipients in North Carolina. Their families include roughly 6,200 U.S.-born children, the nonprofit group said.
Salvadorans compose the third-largest group of Hispanics in North Carolina. UNC’s Carolina Population Center reported their numbers in 2016 at about 6 percent – roughly 56,000, of the 932,221 Hispanics in North Carolina.
That’s compared with 4 percent of the 57.5 million Hispanics who live across the United States identifying as Salvadoran.
El Salvador would be the fourth country removed from TPS by President Donald Trump’s administration. TPS protects immigrants fleeing their home countries because of war, natural disaster or an epidemic from deportation, while allowing them to legally work in the United States.
TPS covers nearly 320,000 people from 10 countries, although that is ending already for Haitians, Nicaraguans and Sudanese. The remaining TPS countries include South Sudan, Nepal, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. A decision affecting TPS status for Hondurans has been delayed.
The affected Salvadoran immigrants came to the United States in 2001, following a series of earthquakes that killed over 1,100 people and displaced 1.3 million.
El Salvador has since recovered and Homeland Security officials report more than 39,000 Salvadorans have returned home in the last two years, but TPS supporters interviewed by CNN said returning immigrants would find increased drug trafficking, gang violence and economic problems.
El Salvador has the world’s highest homicide rate, according to the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.
The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund also responded to the decision, noting that over 193,000 U.S.-born children have at least one Salvadoran parent protected under TPS.
The nonprofit group, which works for Latinos’ full participation in American politics, also pointed out that nearly one-third of TPS recipients have mortgages and 88 percent work in key industries that include construction and home care.
“Disrupting our economy and tearing children away from their mothers and fathers is not only wrong, it is un-American,” said Arturo Vargas, NALEO Educational Fund executive director.
Both NALEO Educational Fund and USCRI officials urged Congress to take immediate action “to protect TPS holders, maintain families and provide meaningful legal alternatives for those fleeing violence in El Salvador.”
Congress could intervene, Republican Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake told CNN. Flake said a TPS resolution is possible if it ends the Diversity Immigrant Visa lottery that offers U.S. visas to citizens from countries with low immigration rates. The Trump administration also has had that program in its crosshairs.
Price noted that applicants to the diversity visa lottery meet extensive eligibility criteria prior to entering the United States, including comprehensive law enforcement and counter-terrorism vetting.
“The suggestion that we should hold hundreds of thousands of families’ futures hostage to eliminate a longstanding immigration program that Republicans don’t like is callous and unfounded,” Price said.
“We should dispense with the pretense,” he added. “The decision to revoke temporary protected status (TPS) for El Salvadorans was driven entirely by the Trump administration’s mass deportation agenda and represents a betrayal of our nation’s commitment to basic human rights as well as years of bipartisan policy consensus.”