TPS holders cast into the shadows?

Thousands of immigrants fear program’s end


Part one of an ongoing series.

Curtailing Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, has become a flashpoint in national politics since President Trump announced in December and January that the program would end in 2019 for Salvadorans and Haitians. Over the past two months, the Herald has interviewed Nassau County TPS holders, law enforcement officials, civil rights advocates, community groups, legislators and lawyers to better understand the issues surrounding TPS. In this series, “No Place to Call Home,” we will explore and unravel the realities of stripping almost 10,000 Nassau immigrants of their legal status.

A series of recent decisions by the Department of Homeland Security to drastically reduce the scope of the Temporary Protected Status designation — a nearly 30-year-old program that grants legal status to immigrants from countries devastated by conflict or natural disasters — could mean that thousands of employed, tax-paying, home-owning Nassau residents will be forced underground, working off the books and hoping that immigration officers don’t catch up with them.

Most TPS holders in New York state have been here legally for more than 20 years, according to the Center for American Progress. Overall, they account for $1.5 billion of the state’s annual gross domestic product — the total of all goods and services produced.

In Nassau County, more than 4,000 TPS holders have taken out home mortgages, and account for about $762 million in economic activity. Economics aside, in the decades they have called Nassau home, they have built lives here. They are students, PTA members and business owners.

For Haitians and El Salvadorans, the program will expire in July and September 2019, respectively. Homeland Security has not yet decided whether it will renew the program for Hondurans.

Immigration is a subject that impacts everything from national and state economies, to law enforcement efforts to keep communities safe, to the lives of individuals who could face deportation. It’s essential to understand the complex causes and effects of ending TPS, but in the heat of the current political climate, it’s all too easy to lose sight of the nuances.

“It’s a fight we all have to weather,” Freeport immigration attorney John Barrera said of the economic and legal limbo that most TPS holders will face, along with those who live and work with them. “Right now, [TPS holders] have to take this as if a storm was coming. Families have to prepare for it and ensure they are able to financially survive.”

Barrera said he believes government officials should give a valid rationale as to why they plan to eliminate the TPS program — but they haven’t.

Scrutiny of the Latino and Haitian immigrant communities is not new, said Emily Torstviet Ngara, a Hofstra University visiting professor and the director of the university’s Deportation Defense Clinic. “[George W.] Bush and [Barack] Obama tried to get something going, but it was Congress or the Senate or the [combination] of the two that let [TPS] fail,” she said, noting that she believes that it was allowed to lapse, in part, because of race.

“Bush and Obama recognized that while conditions had gotten better from the disaster, there was still a dangerous level of civil disorder” in immigrants’ home countries, said Patrick Young, a lawyer for the Central American Refugee Center in Hempstead. “These countries have become extraordinarily dangerous. They’re ranked among the top five countries for homicides.”

“If this is the end, it’s creating anxiety and fear,” said Ceceilia, a Glen Cove resident and TPS holder, who declined to give her last name.

According to Cecelia, canceling the program for El Salvador, which began 17 years ago, isn’t the problem. It was supposed to be temporary, but since it has continued after that much time, “It stopped being temporary,” she said.

The problem is, she said, there is no clear path to citizenship that is being provided for people who have made their lives in this country, although at least one bill has been introduced in Congress to do just that. It’s the Aspire Act, introduced last November. It has gone nowhere.

Like many TPS holders, Cecelia has worked and cared for her family while trying to put her children through school. Now a parent of a college student, she is nervous about the effects that the cancellation will have not just on her life, but on her daughter’s life as she starts college. She also worries about what would happen to her home and retirement savings if she were deported back to El Salvador.

There is nothing for her there, she said.