Participants in a Hempstead rally Saturday that advocated for permanent U.S. residency for hundreds of thousands of immigrants that the Trump administration has vowed to potentially deport said they felt a sense of relief that former Vice President Joe Biden has won the presidency, but they said it was only one step toward their goal.
President-elect Biden said during the campaign that he would seek "an immediate review" of the temporary protected status program that shields the immigrants from deportation and would back legislation to allow longtime residents with TPS to remain in the United States and pursue citizenship.
A bus carrying pro-TPS activists that left Pasadena, California, on Sept. 21 arrived at the Rosa Parks Hempstead Transit Center for the rally, as part of a nationwide tour that is set to culminate Friday in Washington, D.C.
TPS was created in 1990 for immigrants of countries impacted by natural disasters, civil conflict and other problems that make it difficult for them to return home. The Trump administration has said it will end TPS for immigrants from six countries in 2021.
Thousands of Long Islanders with temporary protected status are at risk of expulsion, said Erik Villalobos, 24, of Locust Valley, who has been on the bus tour and is communications manager for the National TPS Alliance.
"They are an important part of Long Island's economy," Villalobos said.
Nationwide, more than 400,000 people from 10 countries have TPS, including 250,000 Salvadorans.
Rogelio Galdamez, 50, a TPS holder from Calverton with three U.S.-born children, arrived in the United States from El Salvador in 1999 and works legally under TPS as a delivery driver.
"I’ve contributed to this country for 20 years, paying my taxes," Galdamez said in Spanish.
But he also said that he "always lived with this threat" of deportation because he relied on TPS to be extended by previous presidents and that’s why permanent residency is needed.
His daughter Marelin Galdamez, who lives on the Stony Brook University campus and is studying biomedical engineering, recently turned 18 and cast her vote for Biden.
His election "is something to be celebrated" because he will listen to the immigrant community’s needs, she said. But, she added, "We are not calling it a victory. We are simply looking at it as a steppingstone on the path to success."
The bus tour was organized after a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena on Sept. 14 voted 2-1 to lift a preliminary injunction against the Trump administration's plan to end TPS for immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan.
The Trump administration argued that the conditions that led to TPS for the countries no longer existed.
Plaintiffs had argued that the Trump administration did not follow proper procedures in ending the program and that racial and ethnic bias — as evidenced by Trump reportedly calling El Salvador and Haiti "shithole countries" — motivated the decision.
Cecilia Martinez, 38, of Bay Shore, a housekeeper, is worried about being separated from her U.S.-born son, 19, and daughter, 14, if she were forced to return to her native El Salvador.
"My daughter is only 14," she said, as daughter Gracie Romero stood next to her. "She needs her mother by her side. Who else is going to take care of her?"
El Salvador isn’t an option for her children because of the violence and poverty there, she said. The country has one of the world’s highest homicide rates.
Speaking at the rally, Gracie asked those who oppose residency for her mom "to look at me in the eye and tell me that my life doesn’t matter. I want them to look at me in the eye and tell me I don’t deserve to be with my parents. I want them to look into my eyes and tell me my life is temporary."