Christopher Artiga knew the day would come.
Artiga, who was born in El Salvador and came to the United Status in 1999, is one of nearly 200,000 Salvadorans with TPS, or Temporary Protected Status.
On Monday, President Donald Trump’s administration announced the program would end on Sept. 9, 2019, forcing people with TPS to gain citizenship, leave the country or risk deportation.
The decision came as no surprise to the 22-year-old Santa Fe programming and analysis sophomore. He and his family watched closely as Haitians fought for their TPS status in November and suspected something would come ever since Trump was elected. They feared his rhetoric would become action.
But Artiga has hope.
“I’m just not going to let it get to me,” he said.
After the news broke, Gainesville lawyers and affected residents prepared to find a way to keep the protected status, which the U.S. offered to Salvadorans in 2001 after a series of earthquakes left the country in a humanitarian crisis, according to the Washington Post.
Gainesville immigration attorney Cary Torres, a UF alumna, said some of her Salvadoran clients had anticipated the TPS drop, and the lawyer has already spoken with three clients about next steps for legalization.
“People have been already trying to fix their problem that they saw coming down the pipe,” she said. “Salvadorans have been foreseeing it in the past month or so.”
Those affected have a couple options, Torres said. They can have an employer or a family member who is a U.S. citizen and at least 21 years old petition to sponsor them or obtain a student visa.
In November, the Department of Homeland Security ended TPS for 60,000 Haitians who arrived after a 2010 earthquake and for 2,500 Nicaraguans protected after Hurricane Mitch in 1998, the Post reported.
In Gainesville, several immigration lawyers like Torres offer free legal consultations for those affected by the removal of their protected status. Her goal is to inform TPS recipients, come up with a plan, and later figure out a payment plan for additional legal services. She also plans to connect with UF latin organizations to speak on the topic.
Immigration attorney Richard Ruth also offers free consultations for affected immigrants. He said he’s hopeful Congress’ midterm elections will bring in a Democratic majority that will create a policy protecting immigrants in the country.
“With the ending of TPS, you’re kind of left with the underlying problem that the folks came in with the illegalization status,” he said. “The options tend to be rather limited, which is why TPS is so important to begin with.”
However, Ruth said TPS is just part of the Trump administration’s immigration reform. He’s requested funding for the border wall in exchange for extending protection for Dreamers, those who came to the U.S. under the age of 16 and were legally protected under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, according to CNN.
Ruth said the City of Gainesville has been more welcoming of immigrants and values their contributions. Now, the state and nation should also adapt to that mindset, he said.
“In Gainesville, people realize the value and contribution of immigrants,” he said. “We have here immigrants who provided valuable contributions to society.”
Immigrants like Artiga have made this country their home, but each year his family has had to spend about $1,500 to apply for a TPS extension, he said. Under the protection, he and others aren’t eligible for citizenship or residency.
“I’ve spent the huge majority of my life here,” he said. “I couldn't even tell you the street addresses of El Salvador or anything.”
His family doesn’t receive tax benefits, and Artiga can’t receive financial aid. Despite it all, Artiga said he’ll keep living his life to the fullest and hope Congress will take action.
“I don't know why I'm being so blindly optimistic, but it's better than being sad over it,” he said. “My future’s uncertain, but life is uncertain.”
CASA de Maryland, an immigration advocacy and assistance organization, holds a rally in Lafayette Park, across from the White House in Washington, Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, in reaction to the announcement regarding Temporary Protective Status for people from El Salvador. The Trump administration is ending special protections for Salvadoran immigrants, forcing nearly 200,000 to leave the U.S. by September 2019 or face deportation. El Salvador is the fourth country whose citizens have lost Temporary Protected Status under President Donald Trump, and they have been, by far, the largest beneficiaries of the program, which provides humanitarian relief for foreigners whose countries are hit with natural disasters or other strife. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)