Local leaders react to Trump administration's decision to end protection of Salvadoran immigrants

HOUSTON – “I was at work today and I knew today was the day,” said Patty Merlos, a native of El Salvador who was brought to America when she was 1 year old.

She grew up in Houston. Now 25, she has a job in corporate America and is living the American dream.

She may find herself without legal status in a matter of months.

“The first few minutes, I cried, of course. Then I thought, 'This is my home. I am not going to leave,'” Merlos said.

The Trump administration is ending the temporary protected status that covered Salvadoran nationals after a 2001 earthquake.

People under temporary protected status have until September 2019 to find a legal way to remain in the U.S., or they face deportation.

Even though the status has allowed them to live and work legally in the U.S. for many years, it does not lead to a path for permanent residence.

“A lot of them are going to lose their houses. A lot of businesses are going to close down, especially in this area, and just the implications of ripping families apart,” Abraham Espinosa, with Fiel, said.

Fiel, a local organization that advocates for the rights of immigrant families, has been fielding a lot of phone calls from people who are concerned about the ending of temporary protected status. Espinosa said Fiel will continue to work closely with families worried about the impact of the Trump administration’s decision.

Merlos is turning to her faith to keep hope alive.

“My parents fought and crossed the desert to bring me here for a better life and I am going to fight for myself to have a better life and my future children to have a better life because I am not taking them back to El Salvador,” Merlos said.

Here is the full statement from Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner:

"Houston is a welcoming city for people from all over the world. The White House decision to end the Temporary Protection Status program for people from El Salvador who live in the U.S. goes against our long-cherished values as a welcoming city to everyone who comes here to work hard and contribute to Houston’s vibrant economy.

"There are over 80,000 people from El Salvador who live in Houston, and 19,000 of them will be directly affected by the end of TPS. Many of them own businesses and work in our service industries. They contribute $1.8 billion to the Texas GDP.

"Also, more than 20,000 Houston children who are U.S. citizens because they were born in our country have parents from El Salvador in the U.S. under TPS. When TPS ends, these families could be torn apart.

"The program was designed to protect people who are vulnerable because of the dangers they face in their homeland. I urge the Trump administration to reconsider its decision and if it does not, I urge Congress to reverse it."

Here is the full statement from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee:

“The Trump Administration’s ill-conceived decision to cancel Temporary Protected Status for El Salvadoran nationals threatens to tear thousands of families apart while undermining efforts to promote a stability in Central America.

“I am deeply troubled over the Administration’s thoughtless and cruel decision to cancel Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for more than 200,000 El Salvadoran nationals, including more than 36,000 in Texas, who will now be forced to return home.

"Although the Administration has granted El Salvadorans another 18 months in the United States, the conditions in El Salvador clearly merit continuing TPS coverage, rather than terminating this essential, life-saving designation.

“El Salvador, a violence-torn Central American nation, suffered catastrophic damage in the 2001 earthquake that launched a humanitarian crisis.

"According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other religious organizations, ‘El Salvador is in no position to accommodate the return of roughly 200,000 Salvadorans’ because of violence, food insecurity and lasting devastation from natural disasters.

“Furthermore, these immigrants have families, own homes, and fill vital jobs that fuel a critical segment of the American economy.

"Arbitrarily dislodging them from the nation they have grown to love is irresponsible and runs counter to our American values.

“This wrongful decision underscores the need for Congress to lead by passing bipartisan comprehensive legislation to reform our system of immigration, and provide meaningful relief to El Salvador and all other similarly situated countries. Extending TPS for El Salvador is the smart and humane thing to do because it strengthens the American economy and keeps families together.”

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