National Temporary Protected Status (TPS) Alliance organizer Claudia Lainez left her home country of El Salvador searching for opportunities and a better life for not only herself but for her future daughter.
Lainez now finds herself fighting to stay in the United States as a major case holds her legal residency in limbo.
Joined by many other TPS holders outside the U.S. Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit Court in Pasadena, Lainez rallies for the extension of the TPS program.
In 1990, Congress established the TPS program to offer temporary immigration status to nationals of certain countries. Applicants must be escaping an ongoing armed conflict, environmental disaster or other extraordinary and temporary conditions. Since its creation, over 300,000 people have immigrated to the United States under TPS, establishing roots where their children could have a chance at a better future.
The recipients are subjected to routine background checks and must reapply for the program every 18 months which costs about $500 each time. They are then granted a temporary work permit and a stay from deportation. They also pay taxes just like many U.S. citizens.
However, in the past few years their legal status has been placed in limbo as the U.S. government decides to end the program. The termination of the program endangers many families as parents may be forced to return to their home countries and leave their children behind. Like Lainez, a vast majority of TPS holders come from El Salvador some of whom gathered outside the courthouse with her.
A new home
At age 17, she embarked on the nearly 3,000-mile journey, leaving behind her mother and father. While she was not alone, accompanied by her 11-year-old cousin, she was traveling to an unknown country she would soon call home.
“I came from El Salvador. It was 1994 — right after the Civil War,” said Lainez now 43. “The country was devastated right after the war and I was looking for a better future here…It’s a long journey. It was very dangerous [but] I was young, and I didn’t know any better. I thought it was like an adventure.”
In 2001, Lainez received her TPS status and began to work to provide for her family. After nearly 30 years in the U.S., she considers this once unknown country her home.
“It’s been 26 years — [that’s] more than half of my life in this country,” she said. “For me, home is here, and my family is here. I have a daughter who’s 20 years old and she’s in college. So for me, thinking about going back to El Salvador — it’s not even an option.”
Lainez lives in constant fear of the what if’s in her life; the fear of the denial of a renewed TPS; the fear of what her daughter will have to do; the fear of never seeing her child again.
While Lainez is glad she made it to the U.S., she does not wish for her daughter to go through the same experience she did.
“I don’t want my daughter to experience any one experience that I had all my life,” Lainez said as a tear ran down her face soaking up in her mask. “This is why I keep fighting. When she was younger, I always lived in fear. The fear that I was going to lose my status and had to go back.”
“I grew up without my parents and I don’t want any other kid to go through that. This is why I keep fighting and keep doing this. None of these kids deserve to go through what we all been through,” Lainez said as she looked at the other TPS holders that surrounded her.
A family’s struggle to stay together
Claudia Caceres’ journey to America is very similar to Lainez’s. She was only 19 years old when she and her family decided it was best for her to leave El Salvador in search for a better future in the U.S.
“I came for a better opportunity,” she said. “I knew that in my country there was lots of gang violence. All the women there were raped. So my parents decided that it’s better for me to come to the United States because there’s a better future here than over there.”
She left her family and her country in 1994, traveling only with her aunt. Now 45 years old working as a cook at a fast-food restaurant and with 4 children, Caceres has been living in the United States for 26 years. Her oldest daughter Jasmin, grapples with the idea of losing her parents if the TPS program is not renewed.
“She was around my age,” said the 20-year-old Jasmin. “That’s a big decision to leave your family and go somewhere that’s unknown to her. I feel like it was hard for her to leave everything behind. I’m grateful that she came to this country and gave me and my siblings an opportunity to have a better future.”
Like many other families with TPS, Jasmin and her parents had the painful discussion of what to do if Claudia and her husband are deported.
“It’s sad because you always want your parents with you. Just thinking about it makes me tear up,” Jasmin said as her mother rubbed her back. “Just to think that my mom can go to a different country and [me] not being able to help her. She won’t be able to tell my siblings that she loves them [and] hug them.”
While the idea of losing a parent is difficult at any age, Jasmin reflects on the idea of being young when that happens, just like her little brother, Jason.
“I just imagine what if it was just my brother,” Jasmin said about 10-year-old Jason. “He’d have to make a decision to stay here with no one or go to a country he doesn’t know. It makes me really sad.”
Claudia and her family hopes that the courts will rule in favor of them.
“It was a hard decision at 19 to leave my family and come to a country I didn’t know,” Claudia said. “It was difficult to separate from my family [in El Salvador]. I don’t want that for [my children, but] it’s happening right now.”
As Claudia stands next to Jasmin and a few feet in front of her other children sitting down on a wall outside the court, poses a simple question:
“Would you want your family to be separated?”