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Salvadorans and other 'temporary' immigrants weigh what's next after the U.S. withdraws welcome mat

Nereida Moreno, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

CHICAGO -- More than two decades after he fled civil war in his native El Salvador, Mauro Navarro doesn't want to give up on his claim to the American Dream.

Navarro, 45, has been shielded from deportation through temporary protected status, a federal program for immigrants who were unable to return to their countries because of armed conflicts, environmental disasters or other "extraordinary and temporary conditions."

But as with many who signed up for temporary status, Navarro's stay turned out not to be temporary. He built a life in the United States for 25 years -- only to be told that it's time for him to go home.

Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen announced in January that the program for El Salvador would be phased out by Sept. 9, 2019. Salvadorans have until March 19 to re-register and renew their work permits a final time.

In the Chicago area, many facing this plight -- the status also is ending for immigrants from Haiti, Sudan and Nicaragua -- are feeling overlooked in the debate on immigration reform. Politicians have focused on the plight of so-called Dreamers who are in danger of losing protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. But holders of this status say they are Dreamers too.

"We can't just sit back with our arms crossed," said Navarro, of Carpentersville. "We have 18 months to fight."

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Under the temporary protected status program, established in 1990, the federal government can grant protections for immigrants from a particular country for six to 18 months, then renew a country's status if conditions remain unsafe.

It's not unusual for the designation to end after two or three years. But many immigrants being affected now have held the status for 10 or 20 years and have established deep roots in the United States. Many have American-born spouses and children.

Under the Trump administration, the Department of Homeland Security has moved to end temporary protected status for immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Sudan and Nicaragua but extended it for South Sudan and Syria. The agency will still decide whether to end the program for Honduras, Nepal, Yemen and Somalia.

Administration officials have said those lengthy stays run contrary to Congress' intent that the program be used to provide temporary protection.


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