For TPS holders, the election stakes couldn't be higher

For TPS holders, the election stakes couldn't be higher
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On March 5, 2021, a terrifying possibility looms for more than 318,000 people living in the United States. Last month,  the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the White House’s plan to deport immigrants who received Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the U.S. after fleeing conflicts and natural disasters in their home countries. Over decades, we have built careers and started businesses. We have raised 280,000 American children. We have made a new home and done it all with the government’s blessing. But in just four months, our lives could be upended.

If the current president is reelected, we’ll have two options: remain in the U.S as undocumented immigrants, living in the shadows at risk of deportation and stripped of protections and rights; or return to El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, Sudan or other countries we haven’t seen in decades and which, in many cases, are impoverished and unsafe. Either way, our lives, our children and the American economy will suffer.

The cancellation of TPS would deeply impact local economies across the nation at a moment when our recovery requires every tax dollar. In 2017, nearly all of us were employed. We paid more than $891 million in taxes and held nearly $6 billion in spending power, according to New American Economy (NAE). Like most immigrants, we start businesses at higher rates than native-born Americans, which is especially important during a recession. We also fill worker shortages in key industries, from construction to hospitality. Approximately 130,000 TPS holders are essential workers, with 11,600 working in health care. It’s incredibly shortsighted to push us out of the country right now. 

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I am one of more than 8,000 TPS holders in Massachusetts. I’ve lived here since 1998, After leaving El Salvador at age 22. I spent the last year as national coordinator of the National TPS Alliance, which advocates for the rights of TPS holders in 27 states, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee and advocating at the state and local level. I’m also the co-founder of the Massachusetts TPS Committee. Today, I’m an executive committee member for the TPS Alliance. I’ve also raised four beautiful children, ages 2, 5, 15 and 19. 

The oldest, Kevin, is in college and dreams of becoming a cardiologist. Our second oldest, Angela, hopes to become a physical therapist. Our kindergartener, Ezequiel, is just learning to read, and our toddler, Valentina, is just 2 years old. If my wife Maya and I are forced to retreat into the shadows, how will we be able to provide for them? But the other option – the one the White House wants – is returning to El Salvador. To this day, the U.S. State Department warns Americans against traveling there due to crime. My kids are American. Now tell me, what am I supposed to do?  

Letting TPS die has an immediate and terrible impact on your neighbors, your children’s soccer coaches and your fellow church volunteers. Our children sit next to yours in school. Without TPS, we can’t purchase homes, work legally or even get a driver’s license in some states. In the middle of a pandemic, many people whose status could be cancelled would suddenly find themselves without health insurance. I hope people understand the value we bring to our communities and state — and how ending TPS would ruin not just our lives, but our children’s. 

Right now, our only hope is the upcoming election. We cannot vote, so we need our communities to stand up for us. Elect officials who see the value we offer the country and recognize the trauma that deportation would inflict on our children. The cruelty of that outcome is unimaginable, which is why we refuse to give up. We didn’t in 2017, when the White House first announced the TPS termination, and we won’t now. We must remind the United States of our value and our children’s potential.  

No matter the outcome, we want to be able to look them in the eyes and tell them we did everything possible to keep them safe. The question for you is: Is this the United States of America that you believe in? I prefer the strong and compassionate United States.

José Palma is co-founder of the Massachusetts TPS Committee and previously served as coordinator of the National TPS Alliance.