An apology to my sons’ Salvadorian caretaker

An apology to my sons’ Salvadorian caretaker
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After my eldest son, Mateo, was born Andrea (name changed to protect her privacy) entered our lives. She immediately bonded with Mateo. And she was a lifesaver.

Andrea babysat for us just enough for us to survive, for me to keep writing, for my wife, Elvia, to finish her master’s degree, and for us to occasionally talk to each other with being interrupted by a baby. 

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Elvia and I met as undergrads at Yale. She got into Yale after writing a brilliant essay about growing up as part of a loving family in El Salvador during the country’s long civil war. After college graduation, Elvia returned to her home country both because her student visa would expire and because her father did not like the idea of us living together during Elvia’s planned year-long internship. We got married in El Salvador and, after some frustration with immigration, eventually Elvia made it to the United States aboard a flight from San Salvador.

 

Since that arrival, we have been able to return to El Salvador regularly to spend Christmas and summers with Elvia’s family. Both the D.C. area and San Salvador feel like home and it is not an overstatement to say that even with the stress of being parents, we are leading charmed lives in which immigration status is occasionally annoying — I have to pay for the $10 tourist card every time I return to El Salvador — but hardly tragic. 

Compared to us, Andrea’s life is tougher and full of immigration challenges that make our concerns pale in comparison, yet she succeeds in making parenting and life seem relatively easy. Andrea was forced to come to the United States when she was quite young. As much as we love returning to El Salvador, the country can be incredibly dangerous and deadly for those without money or for people residing in gang-controlled areas.

Her oldest daughter was only able to join her six years later. Andrea subsequently gave birth in the United States to two more kids, a girl and a boy, whose status as U.S. citizens is quite different from that of their eldest sister, currently a DACA recipient, and their mother with Temporary Protected Status (TPS). 

While the only thing that holds us back from returning to El Salvador as often as we would like is the high price of airline tickets, as someone with TPS status, Andrea has not been able to visit friends and family in her homeland since she came to the United States. Yet, Andrea built a life — a good life — despite these challenges.

I think Andrea, as a devote Christian involved in an active church, would credit God for her ability to appreciate life’s beauty despite immigration and financial challenges. As an agnostic, I give Andrea the credit. 

She is an amazing parent, in a way that I am not. I get tired and annoyed at my kids too often but Andrea is better able to appreciate the beauty of children and of parenting. At her daughter’s quinceañera, at graduations, and at birthday parties, the love Andrea and her kids share is transparent and inspiring. She is a strong, loving, woman who contributes so much to those who get to know her. 

It is heart-breaking that Republicans — as long as Congressional Republicans do nothing to reign in Trump, I refuse to distinguish between them and Trump — have decided that Andrea should not be allowed to stay in the United States.

Andrea bears no fault for having had to escape her homeland. If El Salvador had been doing better at the time she would have stayed. But she had little choice but to leave. And she has since made America home in ways that are appreciated by outsiders — sending her kids to public school, taking English classes and buying a home —and in the more personal ways of building a life and family here. 

There will be pushback to the administration’s decision to not extend TPS status for Salvadorans. Immigrant rights advocates will emphasize the ways in which El Salvador continues to be an unsafe country. The nation and the capital city, San Salvador, have been atop various lists of the most dangerous places in the world in recent years because of their high murder rates.

The press routinely publishes tragic stories of what happens to Salvadorans after deportation from the United States. And gangs, most notably Mara Salvatrucha and the 18th Street gang, control large sections of the country. The gangs prey on everyone, from shopkeepers to bus passengers, but are particularly dangerous for teenagers and young adults who face tremendous physical and sexual pressure to give in to the gangs. As immigrant rights advocates emphasize, given the conditions in El Salvador, immigrants from there should continue to receive TPS protection. 

But Andrea’s status in the United States should not hinge on these legal arguments. After all, such advocacy is framed in terms of conditions in El Salvador and is limited by such framing. Even if the security situation and economic opportunities in El Salvador miraculously improved, that should not answer the question whether Andrea and others like her should be allowed to stay in this, their new homeland. How we think about long-term immigrants — regardless of their official status — who have made the United States home is at least as important. 

I am sorry that we are not yet the country we should be. To put it in terms of your beliefs, we are not yet a country that welcomes strangers and, worse still, we are a country intent on kicking out people who have already become part of the American family. 

Ezra Rosser is a law professor at American University Washington College of Law. You can follow him on Twitter @EzraRosser.