Immigration advocates say the country is not prepared to receive thousands of people and that conditions are still very dangerous. They point out that the State Department warns people to "reconsider travel" to El Salvador because of crime.
Alejandro Segura, 49, said he left El Salvador in 1999 and came to the U.S. on a religious worker visa. He applied for the TPS program in 2001 and settled in Joliet with his wife and sons, who were 4 and 7 at the time. Segura had worked as a teacher in El Salvador and left to do missionary work in the U.S. He and his wife decided to stay so that their children would have a shot at a better life.
Now, Segura manages a restaurant in Joliet. His children graduated from high school and work full time. Segura worries that his sons will "fall in with the wrong crowd" in El Salvador. He said they primarily identify with American culture and mostly speak English.
"It may not be so difficult for me to return because I already had a career and a life over there," he said. "But my sons haven't. They're very young. It'd be like sending them to the belly of the beast."
The family doesn't plan on returning to El Salvador anytime soon. Segura said he has "faith" and "confidence" that the situation will work itself out.
"Everything seems dark now, but we're going to do things the right way," he said. "If we have to return, we will return with pleasure. No problem. The only thing I'm worried about is my kids. I don't think they'll be able to adapt over there."
Maria Cruz visited Centro Romero recently to renew her temporary protected status for the last time before the March 19 deadline.
Cruz, 47, of west suburban North Riverside, said her family traveled to the U.S. on a tourist visa in 2001 and applied for the program after learning about it on the news. She said it was a good opportunity for her children, who were 9, 7 and 3 at the time, to flee violence and poverty in El Salvador.
"I've been here for 18 years. I pay taxes and I follow the rules," she said. "So it's sad to hear that they want to deport us."
Cruz said she has three U.S.-born grandchildren and dreads the thought of being separated from them. Worse, she fears the prospect of returning to a country that her family says isn't ready to receive them.