Early last month, President Trump announced the end of temporary protected status (TPS) for more than 200,000 Salvadorans living in the United States. Francisco Serrano said when he first heard the news, he was in denial.
“All of my family has been on TPS,” said 22-year-old Serrano, who was born in Kentucky. He lives in Bowling Green and is a senior at Western Kentucky University. He also works part-time at a local law firm.
His mom, dad and two uncles all have TPS. Serrano said his father came to the U.S. in 1989 to escape El Salvador’s civil war. His mother followed in 1993, two years before Serrano was born in Kentucky.
Temporary protected status allows nationals of eligible countries to live and work in the U.S. when their home countries are experiencing devastation — including war, epidemics or other disasters.
TPS was granted to Salvadorans in 2001 after earthquakes ravaged their country. But the president’s announcement means that those Salvadorans who aren’t eligible for another protected status will have to leave.
When Trump ended the program for Haiti and Nicaragua last November, Serrano said he began to worry.
“I knew in my gut that a similar thing would be happening for El Salvador,” said Serrano. “He doesn’t like these countries, and that’s apparent.”
Last month, the president was widely criticized for using a derogatory term to describe African countries. Trump also said the U.S. should prefer immigrants from Norway, as opposed to those from Haiti and El Salvador.
“Mainly the only thing we hear from [President Trump] when he talks about El Salvador is the MS-13,” said Serrano. “But that isn’t all that El Salvador is.”
The MS-13 is a gang, started in Los Angeles in the 1980s by Salvadoran youth. Trump called out the gang during his State of the Union address and invited Long Island parents of two teenagers killed by MS-13 members in 2016.
“But that isn’t all that El Salvador is,” said Serrano. “I wish people knew how much me, as a citizen — because I am in every way, shape and form a U.S. citizen — am affected by this,” he said.
In a news release announcing an end to TPS for Salvadorans, the Department of Homeland Security said the decision was based on current conditions in El Salvador.
“The decision to terminate TPS for El Salvador was made after a review of the disaster-related conditions upon which the country’s original designation was based and an assessment of whether those originating conditions continue to exist as required by statute,” the release read.
Salvadorans living in the U.S. under temporary protected status have until September 2019 to either apply for another status or leave the country. TPS does not offer a pathway to citizenship.
As of October 2017, 983 Kentuckians are TPS recipients. California has the highest number of residents on TPS at 80,636. Nearly 437,000 individuals are on temporary protected status in the United States.
“People have been here for decades,” Serrano said. “Their whole lives are being flipped upside down. My parents just bought a home two years ago.”
The end of TPS for Serrano’s parents and uncles also affects him and his four siblings. Serrano could be separated from his mom, dad and other relatives who have been in the country for more than two decades.
“My family will be torn apart,” he said. “That’s really the issue.”
The Pew Research Center estimates approximately two million people consider themselves Salvadoran. That includes those born in El Salvador and those born in the U.S. Nearly 4,600 Kentuckians identify as Salvadoran. An estimated 2,000 are foreign-born Salvadorans.
“[The] U.S. family members that all these Salvadorans have in this country who are U.S. citizens who are also going to be affected,” said Serrano, “these are families that are going to be split apart.”
Serrano said despite the obstacles in front of them, his parents remain helpful that they can stay here. He said with the help of attorneys, they hope that they will qualify for a different status that allows them to remain in the U.S.
“We’re still working at it,” he said.” With them being here so long, they still want to be able obtain U.S. citizenship.”
Serrano said his parents’ situation is more optimistic since they have an adult U.S. born child. But that’s not the case for his uncles.
“They’re going to be left out to dry,” he said of his relatives.
If Serrano’s uncles aren’t able to get a different status, they will be undocumented and risk deportation after TPS runs out next year.
Salvadorans are the largest group of recipients of TPS. Other countries who have the status include Nepal, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.
On January 31, the Trump administration extended temporary protected status for Syrians for another 18 months. More than 6,900 Syrians in the United States have TPS.