Nearly 200,000 people from El Salvador who have been allowed to live in the United States for more than a decade must leave the country, government officials announced Monday. It is the Trump administration’s latest reversal of years of immigration policies and one of the most consequential to date.
Homeland security officials said that they were ending a humanitarian program, known as Temporary Protected Status, for Salvadorans who have been allowed to live and work legally in the United States since a pair of devastating earthquakes struck their country in 2001.
Salvadorans were by far the largest group of foreigners benefiting from temporary protected status, which shielded them from deportation if they had arrived in the United States illegally. The decision came just weeks after more than 45,000 Haitians, the second largest group, lost protections granted after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, and it suggested that others in the program, namely Hondurans, may soon lose them as well. Nicaraguans lost their protections last year. Immigrant advocates and the El Salvadoran government had pleaded for the United States to extend the program, as it has several times since 2001, saying that conditions in El Salvador were still dire. A sense of dread gripped Salvadorans and their employers in California, Texas, Virginia and elsewhere. “We had hope that if we worked hard, paid our taxes and didn’t get in trouble we would be allowed to stay,” said Veronica Lagunas, 39, a Salvadoran who works overnight cleaning offices in Los Angeles, has two children born in the United States and owns a mobile home.
But the Trump administration has been committed to reining in both legal and illegal immigration, most notably by ending protections for 800,000 young undocumented immigrants, known as Dreamers, beginning in March unless Congress grants them legal status before then.
“There is nothing to go back to in El Salvador,” she said, speaking in Spanish. “The infrastructure may be better now, but the country is in no condition to receive us.”
With his protected status, Carlos Jiron, another Salvadoran, started a small contracting business and won bids for big jobs, including to paint federal buildings in the Washington area. “We have built a life here,” said Mr. Jiron, 41, who lives with his wife and two American-born children in a four-bedroom house they bought in Springfield, Va.