Salvadoran immigrant Edwin Perla has spent nearly half his life in the United States, and his three children were born here.
But next year the Bay Shore man could face deportation when the Trump administration ends the 17-year-old program that allowed him and more than 260,000 other Salvadorans to legally live and work in the United States.
Perla, 43, said he was at a Long Island immigration forum on Saturday “to find out if I might qualify for residency, if there’s some way I can stay.”
Suffolk County Legis. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood) and the Hauppauge law firm Ferro Kuba Mangano Sklyar PC sponsored the forum at the Radisson Hotel Hauppauge.
Much of the forum’s focus was on the program Perla is enrolled in — temporary protected status — and on the scheduled expiration on March 5 of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the federal program that shields from deportation many immigrants who illegally arrived in the United States as children.
President Donald Trump has said he is willing to offer a path to eventual citizenship for DACA recipients, but only in exchange for full funding of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and a reduction in legal immigration.
William Ferro, a partner in the law firm, said many immigrants who called his office about TPS and DACA were misinformed.
“I have many clients asking me ‘Should I uproot my family and leave?’ — clients with kids in school asking if they should take them out of school and go back to El Salvador,” he said. “This is a frightening issue. The purpose of the forum is to educate people and give as much information as possible. So if they have to make a decision, that decision is better informed than it might be now.”
Perla enrolled in TPS when Salvadorans were approved for the program in 2001. He is holding out hope that the program will not end in September 2019, as the Trump administration has promised. More than anything, he’s worried about his two daughters, ages 10 and 12, and a son, 14.
“If they deport me, what happens to them?” he said. “They’re kids. They don’t know any other country. The situation in El Salvador is so bad, with all the gangs there that kill many people. I don’t want to take them there.”
Toward the end of the forum, Perla and more than two dozen others lined up for individual legal consultations.
Perla said he was disappointed to hear that gaining legal residency would be “difficult,” despite his U.S.-born children and longtime presence in the country. Others found out that proving “extreme hardship” for their children if they were deported could gain them residency, that marriage to a U.S. citizen doesn’t guarantee legal status and that criminal convictions often lead to deportation.
The hard-line approach that the Trump administration is taking to immigration is having effects beyond programs like DACA and TPS, said Peter Romero, a Babylon lawyer who addressed the gathering.
Workers who do not have legal authorization to work in the United States are still covered under employment laws, he said.
There have always been cases of companies underpaying immigrants, but since Trump’s election “employers have become more brazen,” he said. “They’re taking advantage of the current climate of fear and intimidation. They cheat employees out of their proper wages because they think they are too scared and intimidated to come forward.”