I came to the United States from El Salvador in 1988 with my own American dream.
And when my husband, José, and I bought a three-bedroom home in Huntington Station in 2006, our American dream had come true.
Our dream was possible because in 2001 my husband and I — we are both from El Salvador — qualified for temporary protected status, or TPS. After two major earthquakes devastated El Salvador in 2001, it was added to the list of countries the program covered because environmental disaster or armed conflict made it dangerous to return.
Getting TPS meant I went from a factory job at $9 an hour with no benefits or protections, the best I could do without a legal work permit, to a cleaning job at a local mall paying more than $13 an hour with benefits. My husband moved from cutting grass for a living to a company that installs and repairs sprinklers.
It might not seem like much of a difference, but because of these jobs, we saved for a down payment, and today pay the mortgage and monthly bills for our home.
But our American dream became a nightmare when we learned recently that the Department of Homeland Security had ended TPS for us and for almost 200,000 other Salvadorans across the country — giving us 18 months to sort out our immigration status or face deportation.
I felt the rug pulled out from under me.
My 16-year-old son, Brian, texted me from Walt Whitman High School shortly after the DHS announcement and asked whether the news was true. I texted him yes, but not to worry. That’s what I’ve told him for months, even though his father and I have worried, waiting for a decision. Brian was born on Long Island, and he doesn’t totally understand what’s going on. But he is scared, too — for himself and for us.
My husband and I worry that without TPS, we’ll lose everything our family has worked so hard for — our jobs, our beautiful house and the peaceful neighborhood I call home. I’m concerned about how my parents in El Salvador will get by without the $100 I send monthly to pay for their food and bills.
What frightens me the most is not knowing what will happen to Brian if we have to leave next year, when our permits run out and the program ends. He’ll still be a minor, and I don’t want to leave him with relatives he doesn’t know, or take him to El Salvador, where gangs would target him for membership, putting him in danger whether he joins or refuses. I feel helpless. I might not be able to help him have the good future I want for him in the United States.
I left El Salvador 20 years ago because there were no jobs, and violent gangs were already extorting everyone for protection. My husband left for similar reasons, and we met and married here. And so many years later, we don’t know how to make our way in a country that’s poorer and more dangerous than when we left it. Experts say it’s the most violent country in the hemisphere.
We have done everything to show we’re proud to be a part of America. Salvadorans with temporary protected status have paid taxes, bought homes, helped keep neighborhoods stable, started businesses and raised families here.
Now, our only hope is that Congress will understand how much ending TPS would hurt our families and our communities, and is moved to act. All we ask is to be able to remain in the United States, and to keep our dreams.
Minda Hernández lives in Huntington Station.