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Area Salvadorans advocate for continued legal residence

  • Marleny Amaya, of Amherst, speaks Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, at The Parlor Room in Northampton during a press conference sponsored by the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, Mass TPS Committee and Mass Jobs with Justice. The conference was held to demand the extension of Temporary Protected Status for El Salvador. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Margaret Sawyer, left, and Gabriella della Croce, lead organizers for the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, begin a press conference sponsored by the center, Mass TPS Committee and Mass Jobs with Justice, Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, at The Parlor Room in Northampton. The conference was held to demand the extension of Temporary Protected Status for El Salvador, which the Trump administration announced on Monday would end as of September 2019. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ana Yansi Duran, of Amherst, speaks Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, at The Parlor Room in Northampton during a press conference sponsored by the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, Mass TPS Committee and Mass Jobs with Justice. The conference was held to demand the extension of Temporary Protected Status for El Salvador. Eduardo Samaniego, left, of Northampton, interviewed her and translated. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Margaret Sawyer, left, a lead organizer for the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, speaks during a press conference sponsored by the center, Mass TPS Committee and Mass Jobs with Justice on Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, at The Parlor Room in Northampton. The conference was held to demand the extension of Temporary Protected Status for El Salvador. Immigrants who spoke, including Marleny Amaya, second from left, are gathered beside her on stage. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A group of about 60 people applaud during a press conference that was sponsored by the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, Mass TPS Committee and Mass Jobs with Justice on Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, at The Parlor Room in Northampton to demand the extension of Temporary Protected Status for El Salvador. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS



@BeraDunau
Tuesday, January 09, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — The direct line between government policy and those whom it affects is not always clear.

Yet, at Monday’s monthly meeting of the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, such a connection was readily apparent: If the Trump administration’s withdrawal of temporary protected status from nearly 200,000 Salvadorans stands, the seven area residents who spoke at the meeting will not be able to stay in the country legally after September 2019.

On Monday, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen announced her decision to terminate protected status for El Salvador. This announcement included an 18-month grace period, after which the nearly 200,000 Salvadoran beneficiaries will have to leave or risk deportation. Of the approximately 325,000 beneficiaries of protected status in the U.S., most are from El Salvador.

The decision was not a surprise to the Pioneer Valley Workers Center. An organization dedicated to empowering immigrants and low-wage workers, the center’s workers committee had been preparing for the possibility that repeal would occur, with Monday being the date that a decision was to be made. Last year, the Trump administration rescinded protections for Haiti and Nicaragua, with a decision on Honduras delayed until July 5, 2018.

As a result of this preparation, much of the meeting was focused on protected status and the effects such a decision will have. One of the members of the workers committee is Marleny Amaya, a Salvadoran woman who lives in Amherst, works at Haymarket Cafe, has been in the United States since 1999, and has temporary protected status.

“I’m here for my family,” said Amaya, 36.

Amaya was the first beneficiary to address the meeting, which filled the Parlor Room music venue at 32 Masonic St. She then introduced five other local Salvadoran beneficiaries, all of whom addressed the crowd. Some spoke in Spanish, and interpretation assistance was provided by Margaret Sawyer and Gabriella della Croce, lead organizers with the workers center.

Although the program has temporary in its name, it has been renewed for a number countries for years. In the case of El Salvador, it was put into place in 2001, after a devastating earthquake hit the country. Many beneficiaries have put down roots, with those from El Salvador having an estimated 192,700 children who were born in the United States, and are thus U.S. citizens.

American-born and bred

One of those beneficiaries with children is Amaya, who has a 16-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter, both U.S. citizens.

Another Salvadoran mother of U.S. citizens who spoke at the meeting was Ana Duran, who shared her story through an interview conducted by youth organizer Eduardo Samaniego.

“These people are real and they are here,” Samaniego said.

Duran, who lives in Amherst, came to the United States in 2001. She works in food service at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Duran has three children, Ashley 12, Emily 9, and Brianna, 3, all of whom were at the meeting and all of whom attend Amherst schools.

“They don’t know what El Salvador is,” she said, as translated by Samaniego.

The temporary protection program was created by Congress with the Immigration Act of 1990.

When a country experiences armed conflict, a natural disaster or other extraordinary circumstances, its citizens already in the United States can acquire temporary protected status. This means they are allowed to stay in the United States temporarily and are allowed to work here, although it is not practicable for many such beneficiaries to apply for citizenship. The protected status can be extended indefinitely.

Both Amaya and Duran noted the level of violence still plaguing El Salvador. Indeed, Duran said her brother was killed in 2004 by the MS-13 criminal gang for refusing to join it.

It was also noted at the meeting that a major source of income in El Salvador is money sent over from the United States, and that ending the program will have a major impact on families there.

Amaya said the goal is to get permanent residency for those who now have temporary protected status.

She also said she didn’t want beneficiaries to become victims of workplace exploitation due to the change in their status.

“We deserve our rights,” she said, as translated by Sawyer. “It’s because of our hard work that the food tastes good.”

Amaya makes pupusas for worker center meetings, and appreciation for this traditional Salvadoran dish was expressed by Samaniego.

“They gave us puposas. Have some respect,” he said.

Estimates for the number of Salvadoran with protected status in Massachusetts range from 5,000 to 10,000.

Samaniego said those who want to get involved with the effort around immigrant rights should attend Pioneer Valley Worker Center Meetings, which take place every month at The Parlor Room.

McGovern opposition

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, was one of the lawmakers who expressed his opposition to the repeal of protected status for Salvadoran beneficiaries.

“El Salvador is one of the most dangerous countries in the world and there are few immigrants more deserving of this essential protection,” he said in a statement.

McGovern said he helped to write the law when he was working in the office of former U.S. Rep. Joe Moakley, and he said it was designed to be more concerned with protection than duration.

A key argument of the Trump administration for rescinding protection for the Salvadorans has been that the damage from the 2001 earthquake has been repaired. McGovern said, however, that such a reading is narrow.

“It is a very distorted and narrow interpretation of the law, which provides flexibility to weigh current realities and not just the effects of the 2001 earthquake in El Salvador,” he said.

The announcement of Secretary Nielsen does leave open a possibility for the creation of of a new status for the beneficiaries, however.

“Only Congress can legislate a permanent solution addressing the lack of an enduring lawful immigration status of those currently protected by TPS who have lived and worked in the United States for many years.

“The 18-month delayed termination will allow Congress time to craft a potential legislative solution,” she said.