Until recently not much was known about Temporary Protected Status (TPS) by most Americans. I got to learn first hand, in the trenches, with my colleague Juan. I advocate because of him.
Juan and I at the office in the Shenandoah Valley are of Virginia.
When I first met Juan, he said he was from Honduras, and TPS meant he renewed an application every eighteen months to be in the United States legally. It seemed simple and straightforward then.
Juan taught me TPS covered countries that were torn apart by war or natural disaster, and that he came to the United States after Hurricane Mitch destroy his homeland, Honduras. He's been here for almost 20 years.
When President Trump was elected and based decisions based on his xenophobia rather than the best interest of the U.S., things changed for Juan and approximately 4-Million other families when TPS and DACA policies changed.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) decided to remove countries eligible from the list of those covered by TPS. The administration's decisions caused Juan great stress, and the future uncertain for approximately 600,000+ additional foreign nationals and their families.
Juan has lived through so much. There are simply too many stories of survival and bravery to share. Some stories took months for him to share with me -- we had to establish trust. I suspect there are stories some he will never tell.
He came to the United States in 1998. He had nothing but the clothes on his back. He walked, rode crowded buses, bounced in the back of cargo trucks, and paid a "Coyote," slang for a human smuggler, to get him across the United States border. He was only 16.
Once in the United States, it wasn't long before Juan was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and detained in an ICE jail. ICE placed Juan in an adult detention center since he didn't have a birth certificate. Perhaps out of precaution ICE put Juan in isolation due to his young age. The inhumane confinement made Juan's stay traumatic, and those memories still torture him.
Juan is married to Sarah, also from Honduras under TPS, yet they met and married
in the United States. Sarah and Juan have two beautiful children, Johnny 14 and Marie 8. Johnny has autism, and he likes video games. Marie loves to play with dolls. Marie and Johnny are American citizens. Juan, Sarah, Johnny, and Marie are the faces of TPS for me.
I am Juan's biggest fan. I advocated for him and his wife to receive free pro bono legal service. In October I began the journey to help fight for his TPS status and to save TPS and learned the hell immigrants go through to stay in the U.S. legally.
During election season, Senator Warner made a swing through the Shenandoah Valley and stopped by the famous Kline's Dairy Barn. I invited Juan and his children. I wanted the Senator to see the face of TPS in Virginia.
Senator Warner shared his thoughts on TPS. He told us he wanted the discussion to be about TPS and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), not just DACA. This one encounter, the Senator turned little Marie into a self-proclaimed Democrat. The Senator was going to help her daddy and mommy.
Juan and I chatted for a while with a staffer I know personally, and when he got the business card of a Warner staffer -- the business card of a real U.S. Senator - it was a big deal to Juan.
It was not long after this that the stress began.
The registry wasn't up on USCIS (the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) registry, and DHS (Department of Homeland Security) hadn't announced the fate of those from Honduras. The USCIS registry website is where Juan and his wife renew their status and get their work permits.
We checked every day, and there were no updates for Honduras.
I visited the website over and over. My eyes glazed trying to read the information on the USCIS registry. I wondered how someone who spoke English as their second language and without an attorney could understand this technical writing. But, Juan understood it, every word. He's done this every year for 19 years.
I quickly learned that I was the citizen that Senator Warner represented. As Juan's employer it was far more effective for me to get updates than it was for Juan to call.
I don't like that.
Not only did Juan have to jump through all these hurdles, but he wasn't even a real human being. It was incredibly disgusting to look the monster of inequality that lives and breathes in my country directly in the eyes.
When Christmas was drawing near there were no updates from DHS. We all started stressing. He and Sarah needed their work permits by January 5, yet no word from the administration regarding the fate of Hondurans.
Due to finances, they were not going to do Christmas for their children. That was unacceptable to me.
Juan was stressed to the point of tears. I was able to get the company to get him money to help with Christmas for the kids. Then I advocated for him to get a raise. Even with that help, I as an ardent advocate was unable to not figure out how to navigate the government for his TPS renewal.
I called Warner's office twice a week to request updates.
Finally, in what I call one of many Christmas Miracles for Juan, I received a call from Senator Warner's office saying DHS would announce an automatic six-month extension for Honduras TPS and registry would be posted. I was so excited that I told Juan on live video via Facebook. He cried. I cried.
When the registry was posted the attorneys submitted the paperwork and registry fees.
Just after Christmas, it became apparent that Virginia DMV did not get the memo regarding Honduran TPS expansion. The blanket extension of DHS did not stop driver's licenses from expiring on January 5 for Juan and Sarah. I was frustrated and baffled that the commonwealth was so out-of-step with current events and the impact this had on the lives of real people.
I advocated for Juan to work from home with the laptop until he received the receipt to renew his license. He worked from home for the first week in January 2018.
I still wonder how many Hondurans in Virginia lost income or risked going to a detention center because VA DMV did not align their policies with DHS. How many are in a detention center now? Did this happen in other states?
Mid-week in the second week of January, I was on the way to the office, and I received a call from Juan. He was upset. Almost to the point of tears. The Harrisonburg, VA DMV refused to renew his license with the receipt from UCIS mailed to him and Sarah.
I told him to come to the office. I immediately got on the phone with the DMV Commissioner's office in Richmond. They said they were indeed accepting the paperwork he and Sara had. We faxed this big stack of papers to the Commissioner's office. They were pre approved. I even made a point to tell the Commissioner's office that we were going to the Staunton, VA DMV so Richmond could call ahead to make certain that Sarah and Juan were treated with respect and dignity.
We got in my car and were off to the Staunton DMV where they immediately got their driver's licenses renewed.
All is well with the world.
Johnny & Marie feeding the ducks at the local park.
Not so much, this all happens again in July 2018. For Juan to have a shot at citizenship, he has to place himself into immigration proceedings for removal to have his case heard.
How incredibly backward!
I will be there for Juan in July no matter what. Until then I tweet out to the world hoping that we will save TPS and that Marie and Johnny won't have parents who live in fear of ICE in a couple of years. Juan is as much an American as I am!
Above is a Social Media post created by my colleague, Juan, in the United States as a TPS holder from Honduras.
On May 5 the hell starts all over again DHS will announce the fate of Juans family, and tens of thousands of other families. My prayer is that President Trump and DHS see the current instability in Honduras as a sign that the country remains unsafe for families. But then what happens next year?
We need a pathway to citizenship now. If foreign nationals have been in the United states for 20 years the should be able to have legal, long term #ResidencyNow.
This essay was written by Jen Little a Civil Rights and Social Justice Advocate and public servant. To learn more about Jen or to contact + connect visit www.jenlittle.com.