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As TPS Deadlines Loom, Bay Area Immigrants Fight to Stay

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After a Buzzfeed story about caravans of immigrants heading to the United States from Central America went viral earlier this year, President Donald Trump immediately used fear-mongering tweets to muddle its message of the humanitarian need to safely grant asylum.

“Getting more dangerous. ‘Caravans’ coming,” Trump tweeted in April. “Republicans must go to Nuclear Option to pass tough laws NOW. NO MORE DACA DEAL!”

This week, another caravan of immigrants embarked on a journey to keep them in the United States with legal documents, and out of the shadows. Through a program called Temporary Protected Status (TPS), people from 10 countries who have been in the U.S. since a certain date are allowed to stay with work permits, the ability to travel, and protection from deportation. But six of those countries —  Haiti, Sudan, Honduras, Nepal, El Salvador, and Nicaragua — are set to lose the designation, most of them in 2019. That means more than 400,000 people will be given final notice to leave the United States — people who must choose to return at their own will, potentially leaving family members behind, or else wait for ICE to find them.

Daniela Cardona and her mother have had TPS status since they fled El Salvador for Richmond in 2000. Since she was seven years old, Cardona and her mother have renewed their status about every 18 months — even after Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen announced in January that Salvadorans had until Sept. 9, 2019, to leave the country they may have spent more than a decade in.

“We can’t picture it yet,” Cardona says. “I love [El Salvador] but I can’t live there.”

Working at her father’s immigration law office, Cardona knows she and her mother are lucky to have a path to citizenship through their respective marriages. Short of convincing Trump to reverse course, the only other option is to push for a legislative fix from an intractable Congress.

But that’s what the TPS Journey for Justice caravan set out to do, having begun in Los Angeles on Aug. 17. It will crisscross the country, ending in Washington D.C. three months later, and on Monday, its roughly 20 riders made a stop in San Francisco on the steps of City Hall to call attention to the plight of TPS holders before it’s too late.

Not unlike Cardona, rally speaker Christina Morales emigrated from El Salvador, but after 20 years in the United States, she doesn’t feel at home there any longer. Morales and her 14-year-old, Bay Area-born daughter, Crista Ramos, are lead plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in San Francisco against the Trump administration on the grounds that ending TPS would tear apart families.

Ramos is one of the estimated 273,000 U.S. citizens with parents who have TPS status, according to the Center for Migration Studies. California alone has 55,000 Salvadorans with TPS status.

“Without TPS, without having protections, it will be really easy for the government to get rid of us. They are going to send us with no excuses; they’re going to separate us from our families,” Morales told the crowd. “And we don’t want that. We want justice. And we need all your help.”

With five TPS-related bills working their way through Congress, the program’s advocates are asking constituents to make get their elected representatives to act. The more people who get involved in the push to keep TPS holders in the country, the more pressure government officials face to take action.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen voiced her support for TPS on behalf of San Francisco, calling the impending terminations “absolutely ridiculous.

“This is exactly the wrong time to end TPS,” Ronen said to the crowd, citing ongoing violence and poor conditions in some countries with the designation. “Immigrants contribute to our communities. They’re what make the U.S. amazing and strong and a place that we’re proud of.”

Come Nov. 2, Sudanese nationals in the United States will be the first to feel the impacts of a rescinded program. That doesn’t leave the caravan riders much time to see a bill through Congress, but many have no choice but to fight.

This article has been updated.

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Ida Mojadad @idamoj

Ida Mojadad is the Staff Writer at SF Weekly. You can reach her at (415)-359-2728 or imojadad@sfweekly.com. Follow her on Twitter at @idamoj or at idamojadad.com.

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