A new ACLU of Kansas data tool shows ICE removed 43,069 immigrants across the state in 2019, down from 77,858 in 2018. (Getty Images)
By Eduardo Zelaya
For a parent, time can move fast and slow simultaneously.
A year ago, Frederick Torres and his wife were preparing to send their little boy to kindergarten. Now, he’s about to be a “big boy” first-grader. The baby boy they carried in their arms when they fled Nicaragua is now a walking, babbling 2-year-old. The family also includes a 7-year-old son.
A year in their childrens’ lives passed in an instant. But a year in the couple’s lives felt like a century.
The Torres family was forced out of Nicaragua after the government brutally confiscated the land they owned and relied on for survival. The Ortega regime has been on a rampage against its own citizens, jailing priests and human rights defenders, closing the offices of community aid groups and destroying the lives of families like the Torreses.
When Frederick Torres and his family moved to Richmond, he hoped his anxiety wouldn’t follow. But President Biden still has not redesignated temporary protected status (TPS) for Nicaragua. If he did, Frederick and his family could apply for work permits, and the fear of deportation would subside.
I met Frederick through CASA, a community-led immigrant rights organization in Virginia where I lead organizing. We work with immigrants from many different countries, helping them learn about their new home and how to set themselves up for success. We teach English and financial literacy, and engage our members in grassroots campaigns to strengthen our communities, building people power for social change. Frederick quickly moved from just a member to an active community leader, eager to spread his story for immigrant justice.
One of those initiatives is calling on President Biden to re-designate TPS for people from Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nepal, and designate TPS for Guatemala. TPS is an immigration program the presidential administration can initiate when a country is in crisis and it would be unsafe to send people back there. TPS allows people from a designated country who are already in the U.S. to apply for work permits and not have to worry about deportation, for a while. Congress passed the law authorizing the president to designate countries for TPS in 1990 and each president decides how to use it.
President Bill Clinton first designated TPS for Nicaragua after Hurricane Mitch; it was the deadliest Atlantic Ocean hurricane since 1780. Presidents Bush and Obama extended TPS for Nicaragua, but importantly did not “re-designate” it, meaning that only those Nicaraguans who came to the U.S. before the hurricane in 1998 were eligible to benefit. President Trump tried to end TPS for all Nicaraguans, but the community organized, filed a lawsuit, and prevented him from deporting our friends and loved ones.
Recently, Biden extended TPS for Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nepal. But he didn’t take the opportunity to also re-designate TPS, something that is very much needed so that people who have come here more recently can apply.
When the Biden administration extended TPS for Nicaragua, it admitted the political and safety crisis there is worsening. More people are fleeing the nation than at the height of the Cold War, with Frederick being one of them and fleeing to Virginia for protection. This dangerous situation is clearly stated in the government’s own notice extending the program.
If it’s dangerous to send someone to Nicaragua, it doesn’t matter if they arrived in the U.S. years ago or last week. Danger is danger.
Something Frederick said recently really stuck with me. He said, “President Biden knows what it’s like to be a father. He knows about a parent’s duty to take care of their kids.”
And that is why he, and I, believe President Biden still has a chance to do the right thing.
I have another name for TPS, one that I think really fits: Together, Protected and Safe. That’s what TPS is for Virginians who have it, and that’s what it is for Frederick and others who also need it.
Eduardo Zelaya is a Top 10 Latino leader in Virginia, serving as secretary for the Virginia Latino Advisory Board. A passionate advocate, he serves as CASA’s Virginia State Director of Organizing, helping secure driver’s licenses for immigrants and expand education opportunities for undocumented and DACAmented students. He lives in Arlington County.
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