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In Boston, Local Leaders Join Salvadorans To Protest End Of Temporary Protected Status

10-year-old Gabriela Martinez said her mother would have to leave the country if her temporary protected status was taken away.
Lauren Weinstock/WGBH News

Immigration advocates were joined by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and other local leaders on Wednesday in pushing back against the Trump administration's decision to remove temporary protected status for 200,000 Salvadorans in the U.S. 

“Good morning. My name is Gabriela. I’m ten years old and my mother has TPS," Gabriela Martinez told a packed room in City Hall. Martinez is a U.S. citizen, but her mother, who comes from El Salvador, could have to leave the country if her temporary protected status is revoked. Gabriela told the crowd when she grows up, she dreams of teaching English as a second language. “In order to accomplish my dream, I need my mother and family,” she said.

But on Monday, the Secretary of Homeland Security gave Salvadorans like Gabriela’s mom until September of 2019 to leave the United States or face deportation. Gabriela’s mother, Carolina Mata says she’s been in the U.S. for 19 years. And she says an end to TPS would tear her family apart.

“If I have to go back, I don’t want to take them with me because they no have future there,” Mata said.

“Our kids that are in school shouldn't be worrying about whether or not their mothers or fathers are going to be sent out of this country along with them,” said Mayor Walsh. “That's not the message that we should be sending as a country. And that's certainly not the message that we're going to send as a city.”

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has offered city hall as a refuge for people who are set to be deported, if it comes to that.
Craig LeMoult/WGBH News

Walsh and others at the rally hope a Congress that’s been deeply divided over issues of immigration will pass legislation providing a more permanent solution, allowing people from El Salvador, Haiti and other countries to stay in the U.S.

“Congress has 20 months to act," Walsh said. "We're going to push them, and I'm going to push them every single day because families cannot live with this uncertainty.”

Conservative groups have celebrated the Trump administration’s move to end TPS, emphasizing that the "T" stands for "temporary," and many of these families have remained in the U.S. for decades. They say the conditions in the home countries of these families no longer require protected status here. Most of the Salvadors who have TPS came here after a series of devastating earthquakes ravaged their country nearly 20 years ago. But the Salvadorans at the Boston rally said the current situation makes it unsafe for them to return, especially because of violent street gangs.

A strong showing of state and local lawmakers spoke out in favor of the Salvadoran families. And Patricia Montes, executive director of the advocacy group Centro Presente, which organized the event, thanked them for being there. But she had another message, too. I want to see the politicians all the time working with the community, working with the immigrant community, because we are part of the society. We are part of the city," Montes said. "So please don't come to see us only when we're facing a crisis.”

Patricia Montes, Executive Director of the advocacy group Centro Presente.
Lauren Weinstock/WGBH News

The news of the Trump administration’s plan to revoke TPS for Salvadorans comes in the same week that a federal judge temporarily blocked the president from ending protections for nearly 800,000 young immigrants who qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, said that ruling will provide broad relief for many children. And he said it's very relevant to the discussion of TPS. The same legal and administrative remedies that were available to provide relief for the DACA recipients are a blueprint for the type of protections that we could be seeking in court for TPS recipients,” he said.

One of those recipients is Elmer Vivas Portillo’s mother. Portillo grew up in Cambridge and is now a sophomore at Harvard. He says he saw this coming because of some of the rhetoric in the 2016 presidential campaign.

It's not a surprise, but I think that it's just more of a having like a bucket of cold water thrown at you and say wake up,” he said. Portillo has a 9 year old brother. He says his mom is the only member of the family that faces deportation. “I can only imagine what that would feel like for my mom to have to go back alone, because I don't see us all going back.”

Portillo acknowledged the complaint that hundreds of thousands of people have taken advantage of a temporary system. But he says the solution is simple: make their residency permanent. 

Elmer Vivas' parents are both from El Salvador, and his mother has TPS. He grew up in Cambridge and is now a Sophomore at Harvard.
Lauren Weinstock/WGBH News


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