WASHINGTON—The Trump administration’s announcement Jan. 8 that it would end temporary protected status for some
200,000 Salvadorans in the U.S. hit personally for immigrant-heavy American unions.
The decision “stands out as among the most cruel to date in the onslaught of assaults to immigrant communities,” 32BJ SEIU President Héctor Figueroa said in a statement. “Deporting hundreds of thousands of U.S. residents back to the most dangerous country in the Western Hemisphere is not just an affront to American values, but a near-homicidal act.”
Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen said in a statement that she made the decision because the conditions that prompted President George W. Bush’s administration to give Salvadorans the right to stay and work here legally, the designation, the aftermath of a series of earthquakes in early 2001 that killed more than 1,000 people, “no longer exist. Thus, under the applicable statute, the current TPS designation must be terminated.”
Salvadorans who received temporary status will have 18 months, until September 2019, to leave, gain legal-immigrant status, or face deportation. That the U.S. has sent more than 39,000 Salvadorans back in the past two years, Nielsen added, demonstrates “that the temporary inability of El Salvador to adequately return their nationals after the earthquake has been addressed.”
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka saw a more sinister pattern. After the recent terminations of protected status for Sudanese, Nicaraguans, and Haitians, he said in a statement, the decision “suggests that this administration is intent on ending a humanitarian program that has long been supported by presidents of both parties due to the benefits it provides both at home and abroad.” It “will undermine our freedom to fight together for better wages and equality at work for all working people,” he added, because it “cruelly strips away work authorization from deserving men and women, making them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse on the job.”
In November, according to CNN, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly made multiple phone calls to then-Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, demanding that she revoke temporary protected status for Hondurans. Duke decided she didn’t have enough information to make a decision, giving about 86,000 Hondurans here a six-month reprieve.
“These immigrants have been living and working legally in this country for nearly 20 years. They have raised families, bought homes, and contributed to their communities. With the stroke of a pen, they will now lose their legal status and their families will be torn apart,” Teamsters Joint Council 16 President George Miranda told LaborPress. “We will do everything possible to support our immigrant members in their time of need and help them protect their families.”
Joint Council 16 declared itself a “sanctuary union” in September, after it was unable to prevent the deportation of Eber Garcia Vasquez, a 54-year-old Guatemalan who’d been a member of Local 813 on Long Island for 26 years after fleeing the country’s military dictatorship in the late 1980s.
The Salvadorans here on temporary protection status have an estimated 190,000 U.S.-born children, who can become citizens.
“Not only will terminating TPS for 200,000 Salvadorian workers take away their livelihoods and the life they’ve spent decades building here, but it will tear apart hundreds of thousands of families with mixed immigration statuses, including many with American-born children,” said Maria Elena Durazo, general vice president of UNITE HERE. The union said it represents “thousands” of immigrant workers on protected status in the hotel, restaurant, and casino industries, with Salvadorans particularly significant in California, Texas, and Washington, D.C.
The AFL-CIO urged Congress to “to address this created crisis by providing a well-earned road map to citizenship for working people who have contributed so much to our nation,” as did 32BJ. UNITE HERE said it has pledged nearly $1 million to a labor campaign called Working Families United, to save the TPS program and advocate “comprehensive immigration reform for the 11 million undocumented.”
El Salvador may have recovered from the 2001 earthquakes, but it has suffered both natural disasters and rampant crime since then. In 2009, more than 130 people were killed when more than a foot of rain fell within 24 hours near the capital of San Salvador, setting off more than 100 landslides. In 2015, the country had the highest homicide rate ever tabulated in the world, when 6,657killings worked out to 103 per 100,000 people—more than three times as much as New York City in 1990 or Chicago in 2016—and last September, it averaged 14 murders a day.
Ironically, the crime—which set off a wave of immigration by children and young teenagers in 2014, when nearly 70,000 from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala showed up at the U.S. border unaccompanied by adults—is fueled by the Los Angeles-born gangs MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha) and Barrio 18, along with the Mara splitoff MS-503. They gained a foothold in northern Central America after the U.S. deported members in the 1990s.