(KMSP) - The Trump administration's decision to end special protections for nearly 200,000 Salvadoran immigrants brought anxiety to many families Monday, raising the possibility that many will be forced to abandon their roots in the U.S. and return to a violent homeland they have not known for years.
Since the 2001 earthquake, every president has periodically evaluated if things have improved on the ground in El Salvador. Each has said they haven't--up until now.
Currently El Salvador is still widely regarded as one of the most violent countries in the world, where gangs like MS-13 and civil unrest pose an indiscriminate threat.
“I don’t think people have even begun to understand how bad this is going to be for our country,” said Ana Pottratz Acosta, an assistant teaching professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law. “They have been here for many years, they have jobs, they have U.S. citizen children, they have cars that they’ve leased or owned, they have homes.”
Many Salvadorans have lived here since 2001 under Temporary Protected Status, arriving in the United States after a devastating earthquake ravaged the country.
“They have whole lives here and now that’s potentially getting taken away from them,” said Pottratz Acosta, another attorney who spent much of Monday taking calls from concerned clients.
“I did receive several phone calls from clients wondering what to do, what they need to do in order to extend their TPS status … asking when they would be able to apply for a last extension, what would happen to them after September 2019 when TPS ends for Salvadorans,” she said. “They will lose their work permits, legally lose their right to work in the country and would be subject, potentially, to removal."
While Pottratz Acosta says the violent climate in El Salvador doesn’t justify the decision, Monday’s announcement gives U.S. Salvadorans a year and a half to prepare. Secretary of Homeland Security Kristjen Nielson said the 2001 natural disaster no longer justifies a temporary extension.
“The humanitarian impact, as well as the economic impact, is going to be huge,” Pottratz Acosta said.
According to the Immigration Law Center of Minnesota, more than 9,200 nationals from El Salvador live in Minnesota. Additionally, the Center for Migration Studies reports fewer than 5,000 Salvadorans in Minnesota are TPS residents.
Across the U.S., 88 percent of Salvadorans are in the work force--which means they pay taxes and contribute to economic growth, helping to rebuild after hurricanes and wildfires.
Half have lived in the U.S. for at least 20 years and two thirds have U.S. citizen children.
“Employers will need to figure out how are we going to replace these workers. Often times the employees have been with the same company for years and years, so this is a long time employee who has institutional knowledge who’s been a loyal employee for years and years who’s no longer able to work” Pottratz Acosta said.
If enforced, the decision is expected to evoke serious ramifications nationwide.
“They won’t be able to pay rent, they won’t be able to pay their mortgage, they won’t be able to pay for necessities for their children, so this is going to have a huge ripple effect in our economy," Pottratz Acosta said. "This is really going to upend a lot of lives.”
The Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota (ILCM) has opened a helpline for Salvadorans in Minnesota impacted by TPS revocation, with hours from 3-5 p.m. Tuesday, January 9 through Friday, January 12. The number for the helpline during those times is 651-287-3715.
In a statement to FOX 9, Congressman Keith Ellison writes:
“President Trump’s heartless decision to upend the lives of nearly 200,000 Salvadorans has no rational justification. Deporting these Salvadorans, who have lived here for a minimum of 17 years, is a choice driven by Trump's compulsion to turn us against our neighbors. As with his decisions to end protections for Nicaraguan and Haitian immigrants last year, today the president has chosen anti-immigrant bigotry over sensible and humane policy.
It tears at the conscience of our nation to send these families back to El Salvador, a country widely regarded as one of the most violent in the world. Those of us devastated by today’s decision must now join together against this administration’s attacks. I will continue to stand with immigrant communities and our allies to ensure Congress does the right thing and provides legal status for these countless families."