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North Fork Salvadorans face many questions following new directive

“What do I do now?”

That’s the most common question immigration lawyer Christopher Worth of East Quogue is hearing lately, since the recent announcement that Temporary Protected Status for El Salvador would end next year.

TPS was granted to people from El Salvador after two earthquakes in 2001 devastated the Central American country. The Department of Homeland Security, seeing that infrastructure and other damaged services have since been repaired, announced Jan. 9 that El Salvador is no longer threatened by “the original conditions caused by the 2001 earthquakes.” The protection is set to terminate Sept. 9, 2019.

A similar announcement was made for Haitians with TPS and a decision by the Trump administration on the legal status of Hondurans is expected. Citizens of that country who came here under the provisions of that law also face losing that protection.

On Sunday, Mr. Worth presented information and outlined a basic framework of options that Salvadorans covered by TPS may have to remain in the country. He made his case in conjunction with the North Fork Spanish Apostolate at St. John’s Church in Riverhead.

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

That question was on the mind of one local man under TPS, who declined to give his name after the session but said he was confused about what his next step would be. The man, who attended the meeting with his wife and daughter, said he’s lived in the United States for nearly two decades. He owns a house and pays taxes, he said.

There are over 14,700 Salvadorans living on Long Island under TPS, according to a letter the Nassau and Suffolk county executives sent to members of Congress. That’s 14,700 out of a total of 16,200 Salvadoran TPS beneficiaries living in New York State, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.

Sister Margaret Smyth of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate said this news garnered a “huge reaction” among Salvadorans over what ending the protection means and if there are paths that can be taken toward legal status.

Mr. Worth said it’s important for people not to panic as they navigate their options.

“They have a year and a half to make a plan — whether it be to pursue another legal status here or, if there are no good options, to plan to depart,” he said.

Sister Margaret advised at the meeting that people should get to work making a plan “ayer” — which means “yesterday” in Spanish.

“On the other extreme, they should also avoid taking drastic action by immediately submitting an application for status that they might not be eligible for,” Mr. Worth said.

People should find an organization or attorney they trust to get a better idea about what lies ahead, Mr. Worth said. He also said Sunday that there is no “magic solution.” No one option will work for everyone and numerous factors are involved, including whether a person holds a work permit or has a family member with legal status.

Sister Margaret said the North Fork Spanish Apostolate. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)

Sister Margaret said the North Fork Spanish Apostolate has organized a second meeting with Mr. Worth to further explain possible paths toward staying in the country.

“This is hitting some of the farms and farm workers,” she said.

Rob Carpenter, administrative director for the Long Island Farm Bureau, said he is not certain what the breakdown is in terms of farm workers on the North Fork, so it is unclear what the impact could be if many Salvadorans 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. “Just trying to have a means of enforcement is not reforming the system … I think by any means necessary that we can have to find a workable immigration system is the most important thing.”

Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), in a statement provided by his office, emphasized the temporary nature of the protected status.

“After a hurricane decimated El Salvador in 2001, President George W. Bush granted Temporary Protected Status to El Salvadorians in need,” Mr. Zeldin said. “Seventeen years later, with El Salvador no longer suffering from the impacts of this 2001 hurricane, we are reminded that this program exists to provide temporary status, not permanent status. This 17-year situation underscores the deep flaws of our nation’s immigration system, one that must be fixed through legislative channels.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran sent a letter to local members of Congress, including Mr. Zeldin, calling on them to extend protections for Salvadorans on Long Island. They released an analysis by the Suffolk County Department of Economic Development and Planning that predicted a “dire impact” and “massive economic hit” locally if TPS for Salvadorans ends.

The letter cites projections that ending the program would result in an $800 million annual loss in household spending and potential loss of 13,500 jobs, among other possible local economic effects,and constitute a “blow to homeowners” in terms of unpaid loans, leading in turn to a worsening of the “zombie” home problem both counties face.

“Worst of all, the timing of this decision adds insult to injury,” the letter states, referencing the recent federal tax legislation that eliminates state and local tax deductions. The tax changes, combined with the impending end of TPS for Salvadorans, “will exacerbate the negative impact to the housing market and create a one-two punch that we simply cannot afford,” according to the county executives’ letter.

After the Department of Homeland Security announcement, Mr. Cuomo urged immigrants to seek out information on their rights. A

“Know Your Rights” seminar will be held by CARECEN, the Central American Refugee Center, at 91 N. Franklin St. in Hempstead on Thursday, Jan. 25, at 3:45 p.m. Additional seminars will be announced.

“This federal administration’s decision to tear families apart, disrupt small businesses and lead those who have become part of the American fabric to an uncertain future, is disgraceful and unjust,” Mr. Cuomo said in a Jan. 9 statement.

Top caption: Mr. Worth at last week’s meeting. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)

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