Editorial: Worrisome times for many North Fork immigrants

01/27/2018 5:55 AM |

These are dramatic and worrisome times in our country for immigrants from some Spanish-speaking countries. In January, the Department of Homeland Security announced that a program called Temporary Protected Status for El Salvador will end in September 2019. 

TPS, approved in 2001 by former President George W. Bush, allowed citizens of that country to come to America in the wake of two devastating earthquakes. In its January announcement, DHS said disrupted services and damaged infrastructure had since been repaired and, thus, those refugees who came here under TPS should go back.

A similar announcement was made for Haiti’s TPS and a decision by the Trump administration on the legal status of Hondurans is expected, meaning citizens of that country who came here under the provisions of that program also face losing legal protection.

Beyond these cases, of course, is the ongoing drama surrounding the hundreds of thousands who came here under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy that protected the undocumented immigrants referred to as “Dreamers.” They came as children and were granted protected status by the Obama administration, a status the Trump administration disagrees with.

Earlier this week, after several days of a federal shutdown, the House and Senate approved temporary funding to keep the government open and paying its bills. At the heart of the dispute over the shutdown was the dispute between Republicans, Democrats and the Trump administration over the status of the Dreamers.

In essence, the Senate Democrats gave in to their GOP counterparts and agreed to a temporary funding measure to keep the government going, all on the promise from the GOP majority leader that the Dreamer issue will be taken up. Critics within the Democratic Party blasted the decision to end the shutdown and said there are no assurances that the House, the Senate or the White House will come to the aid of the Dreamers.

On Tuesday, in fact, House GOP Whip Steve Scalise told reporters that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s pledge to act on immigration next month — the very reason the shutdown ended — would have no impact on the House. Mr. Scalise ruled out any “amnesty” for immigrants and said any deal on immigration would have to include billions of dollars in funding to build a border wall.

For the 14,700 Salvadorans living and working on Long Island under the TPS program, the bitter immigration debate has caused a toxic level of worry about their futures. Many don’t know what to do, as a reporter heard while covering a recent presentation in Riverhead by immigration lawyer Christopher Worth.

“So many people have built lives here, have children here, own businesses and homes, and they are just trying to understand if and how they can stay in the United States,” Mr. Worth said. “People really just want to know what they need to do to stay here legally.”

Sister Margaret Smyth of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate said farm workers are among the Salvadorans who feel their lives here are in a state of limbo. And Rob Carpenter, administrative director for the Long Island Farm Bureau, said he could not calculate how large the impact would be on local farms if many Salvadorans had to leave the country.

“I would like to reinforce that we really need to find a way to keep valuable farm workers in this country,” Mr. Carpenter said. He called on Congress to create a workable immigration system.

That idea is a very good one, but the mood in the White House, and in the House and Senate, doesn’t bode well for finding a path to that solution.

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