Trump's Latest Immigration Move Could Affect Thousands of Salvadoran Students
The Trump administration will end temporary legal immigration status for hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans who have been living in the United States since 2001.
The decision means that immigrants from El Salvador who currently have Temporary Protected Status, a program that allows immigrants from countries in crisis to live and work in the United States legally, must return to the Central American nation by September 2019 or be subject to deportation.
The decision could upend the lives of thousands of U.S.-born, school-age children in U.S. K-12 schools. How many children would be affected is unclear, but the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based research group, estimates that the decision could alter the immigration status of as many as one in every five Salvadoran immigrants living in the United States.
The federal government first granted Salvadorans temporary protected status in 2001 during the George W. Bush administration after a series of earthquakes killed nearly 1,000 people and destroyed tens of thousands of homes.
Bush and President Barack Obama extended those protections, finding that El Salvador had not fully recovered from the earthquakes and also suffered from violence that made it problematic to return so many people to the unstable nation.
Cutting off the protected status means that the Department of Homeland Security, under President Donald Trump, signals that the federal government now thinks that conditions in El Salvador have improved enough for the Salvadoran immigrants to return home.
It's a conclusion that immigration advocates disagree with.
"Salvadoran TPS holders have been living here with work permission for nearly two decades," Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice Education Fund said in a statement. "Now, the Trump administration is trying to drive them back to a country engulfed in corruption, violence, and weak governance."
Even as the country recovers from the earthquake, families and unaccompanied minors have fled El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras in recent years because of rampant violence there and have struggled to adjust and find a place in U.S. schools.
Besides the language barrier, with many Spanish speakers arriving in the U.S. knowing little or no English, a 2016 investigation by the Associated Press found that dozens of districts in 14 states were actively discouraging children from enrolling in schools or setting them up in dead-end alternative programs.
U.S. Census data culled by the Migration Policy institute found several metropolitan areas with significant Salvadoran-born populations, including Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Francisco in California; Dallas and Houston in Texas; and Miami, New York, and the District of Columbia along the East Coast.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen "determined that the original conditions caused by the 2001 earthquakes no longer exist. Thus, under the applicable statute, the current TPS designation must be terminated," a press release from the agency read. "In recent years, the U.S. government has been repatriating individuals back to El Salvador —more than 39,000 in the last two years— demonstrating that the temporary inability of El Salvador to adequately return their nationals after the earthquake has been addressed."
Phasing Out Protected Status for Other Immigrants
Temporary protected status never offered a pathway to citizenship for the Salvadoran immigrants. Previous presidents have canceled the protection for immigrants from countries across Africa, Europe, and the Middle East.
The Trump administration has been phasing out temporary protected status for immigrants from a number of countries, with El Salvador becoming the latest on the list.
All told, the Migration Policy Institute estimates that the recent decisions by the federal government will force more than 400,000 people to leave the country or risk living as undocumented immigrants.
In November, Homeland Security announced it was canceling the visas for roughly 59,000 Haitians living under protected status in the U.S. since a powerful earthquake in 2010 leveled the country. Now, they must return home by July 2019 or face deportation.
Miami-Dade schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, a fierce immigration advocate, estimated that, in his district alone, almost 12,000 students and another 5,700 enrolled in adult education courses would be affected by the decision to end their protected status, NBC 6 in South Florida reported back in November.
In 2015, the U.S. Department of Education estimated that there were close to 24,500 Haitian Creole English-language learners in U.S. schools.
Since Trump took office, Homeland Security has also sunset the visas for thousands of immigrants from Honduras, Nicaragua, and Sudan.
As the July 2019 date nears, removing the protected status for such a potentially large group of students will lead educators to explore what they can do to protect the rights of undocumented students.
Photo: CASA de Maryland, an immigration advocacy and assistance organization, holds a rally in Lafayette Park, across from the White House in Washington on Jan. 8, in reaction to the Trump administration's announcement that it will rescind Temporary Protective Status for immigrants from El Salvador. --Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP