Immigrants seek city’s support in securing status
City Councilor Lydia Edwards met last Friday at City Hall with immigrants whose temporary status and livelihood has been put in jeopardy by both the state and federal government.
About 50 people from across the country whose lives in the U.S. have been placed in uncertainty by President Trump’s recent decision to end the temporary protected status (TPS) of immigrants from countries like El Salvador, Sudan and Haiti, gathered around midday on the fifth floor of City Hall. Representatives from the National TPS Alliance, faith groups and local Latino community organizations were there to ask councilors to join them in lobbying for secured immigration status, and to pressure the state’s legislature to protect their right to hold a driver’s license in Massachusetts, a vital means of income TPS recipients are currently being denied by Governor Baker’s administration.
“I just want to say thank you for the support you’re giving us,” said Francis Garcia, a TPS holder from Honduras who lives in Maryland. “Of course there’s a little bit of fear because of what is happening … the privilege of being in this country ends for many of us and we don’t know what will happen.”
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grants protected status to foreign nationals from countries where extenuating circumstances, like civil war, disease or natural disaster, makes it impossible to live there. They are fully vetted and documented and issued a social security number so that they may pay taxes, but do not have a green card or permanent residency status.
In January, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced that TPS will be rescinded for nine of the 13 countries currently under protected status, including Nepal, Honduras, Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti, and El Salvador. This decision impacts a large number of the 400,000 TPS recipients currently living and working in the U.S.
“We have been here as part of society,” said East Boston resident, activist and TPS recipient from El Salvador, Julio Perez, who has lived in the city since 1994 and is proud to call himself a Bostonian. “We are hard workers and we have contributed to this nation in many ways,” he said.
Following two earthquakes in 2001, El Salvador was added to the list of countries in receipt of protected status. Nielsen’s announcement was due to end this arrangement last month, but the department has now granted El Salvador a six-month extension, after which the fate of TPS recipients from this country becomes unknown once more.
Haiti was granted TPS in 2010 after the country suffered devastating earthquakes, yet its protected status is due to end in January 2019. Sudanese immigrant families fear separation, as TPS for them is scheduled to end on Nov. 2, after five years living and working in the U.S.
“Time has been pushed forward for a lot of us,” said Garcia, “but for those whose TPS will end in November, it is important for them to know that Boston is supporting them.” She asked councilors and their representatives on Friday, “What is going to happen to their families? What is Boston going to do to keep them safe?”
In 2016, Baker signed Massachusetts up to the federal Real ID law that will come into effect on Oct. 1, 2020. Holders of these new driver’s licenses must have proof of legal residency, which TPS recipients do not. As the protected status of Boston’s 4,000 TPS holders remains undetermined, the Baker administration has decided not to renew their driver’s licenses, causing many to lose their jobs or seriously restrict their earning potential.
“We are literally telling people not to work,” said Edwards, calling Baker’s decision to cancel the renewal of driving licenses for those without proof of lawful presence, a “stupid, horrible and cruel move.”
“We have a governor who has been consistently anti-immigration when it comes to licenses,” said Edwards. She contrasted Baker’s approach with that of Jay Gonzalez, the Democratic nominee for governor. When asked about the prospects for progress in Massachusetts, Edwards said, “Our chances go up if we have another governor in November,” when the public votes.
Discussions turned to how Boston’s city councilors can help support the TPS Alliance and its partners gain a permanent solution to the question of status.
“We need to act, and we need to act fast,” said Garcia.
Edwards said she was committed to working with Boston’s neighboring cities to raise awareness and ensure resolutions are brought forward that would help secure the status of the state’s immigrant population. She also said councilors would help raise funds for their cause.
“You are as American as anyone else, it’s just paperwork,” said Edwards, “and I’m happy to fight for you until the end.”