Tuesday January 09, 2018

'We made this our home': U.S. ends protected status for Salvadorans

Vanessa Velasco (right) with her husband and eldest daughter. Velasco has not been back to El Salvador since leaving 17 years ago.

Vanessa Velasco (right) with her husband and eldest daughter. Velasco has not been back to El Salvador since leaving 17 years ago. (Submitted by Vanessa Velasco )

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For Vanessa Velasco, the United States has been the only home that she and her family have known, since leaving El Salvador 17 years ago.

But that may soon change.

On Monday, the United States announced that it will end a program that allowed some 200,000 Salvadoran immigrants to remain in the country under temporary protected status (TPS). The program will end on Sept. 9, 2019 — giving Salvadorans 18 months to leave or seek lawful residency.

"Our whole life is completely changed," Velasco told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"We thought that maybe something will come and give us a more permanent solution, but never that we're going to be terminated and we have to face the decision to leave in about a year and a half."

The TPS program started in 2001 after two devastating earthquakes left hundreds of thousands in El Salvador homeless. But Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen now says that the U.S. has determined that the effects of those quakes are no longer a hurdle to returning.

Salvadorans are the largest group under the TPS program, which officials say is only supposed to provide temporary asylum.

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People transport the coffin of a family member killed during the earthquake that hit Verapaz, El Salvador in 2001. These devastating earthquakes are what began the TPS program in the U.S. for Salvadorans. (Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images)

During their time in the United States, Velasco and her husband Enrique put down roots. They bought a home in 2003, had children and became involved in the community. Velasco homeschools their three children, aged four, 12 and 17. She considers herself an American citizen.

"We made this our home," she said.

Telling her children

While the decision by the U.S. government is something that Velasco has been preparing for as the Trump administration moves to tighten immigration enforcement, telling her three children still wasn't easy.

"I went to their room and told them firsthand, before … they hear it from somebody else," Velasco said.

"I told them that the news has come and we assured them that, you know, we're going to do everything we can to be together and we're going to not let ... something bad happen to them."

El Salvador Gangs

Suspected Mara Salvatrucha, or MS, gang members sit in the back of a truck after they were arrested and shown to the press. A weak economy and gang violence has given El Salvador one of the world's highest murder rates. (Salvador Melendez/The Associated Press)

Is Canada an option?

Velasco and her family will appeal to stay in the United States, but if that fails they will have to go back to a country that struggles with a weak economy, gang violence and one of the world's highest murder rates.

"We have kids and putting kids through that is ... unacceptable as parents," Velasco said.

Canada may also be an option for the family. Velasco's husband has job connections in the country, and her oldest daughter speaks French.

"It's time to think what other options we have," she said.

"It's time to fight with everything [we've] got to try to keep our family together."

— With files from Reuters