Juan and Sarah fell in love in 1998 after arriving undocumented to the United States in the wake of Hurricane Mitch, a disaster that devastated their country of Honduras.
The two were still in their teens when they met in San Diego, in immigration court. Both came to this country looking for their mothers, who had migrated before and left them behind.
That was exactly 20 years ago.
The two Honduran nationals formed a stable family and have two children: Johnny, 14, and Marie, 8, both born in the United States.
For Juan, his family and his life in this country was the equivalent of a happy ending for a difficult childhood and teen years marked by abuses and separations. First of all, the mistreatment and beatings that his mother suffered at the hands of his father. This left indelible images of violence in the young man´s brain.
And then, his mother migrated, fleeing for her safety. Her children -a total of four with Juan being the oldest- did not see her for years.
But the life they have now could go away in a flash because they´re both legally here under TPS, a protection status they received for the first time in 1999 along with thousands of other Hondurans, right after the hurricane happened, killing tens of thousands and destroying the country´s infrastructure.
The Trump Administration recently canceled TPS for Nicaraguans, Salvadorans, and Haitians, among others.
“We really are devastated to think that we could lose our legal status,” Juan said. He asked not to be identified by his real name, afraid of being targeted by ICE. “We have roots in this country. I came when I was 16 years, I met my wife here and we have a beautiful family “.
Juan is eager for his story to be heard. “Please tell people that for us TPS is not just three letters, it’s my family, it´s my children, it’s my life …”.
The Trump government is closing our doors
If the United States sends them back to Honduras, says Juan, “we have nothing to return to.”
“I have not spoken to the families I have there for many years. I have two children who do not speak Spanish and one of them is autistic. He needs a lot of support from us and from his school. There is nothing like that there.”
Juan and Sarah’s family is not alone in this situation. There are about 60,000 Hondurans protected by TPS since 1999 and now they fear losing everything.
They have American friends, coworkers, and neighbors who are helping them. In Juan´s case, his support comes from Jen Little, a co-worker, who became a pro-TPS activist when she learned of his distress last year.
“Before this, I did not know how complicated it was for immigrants,” says Little, a colleague of Juan at his place of employment. “I did not know how difficult it is to get a green card. These are good people, he´s my favorite most trusted co-worker. His life is in limbo. I cannot believe my country is doing this”
Late last year, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it was still considering what to do about TPS for Hondurans and gave them a six-month extension in the meantime.
In the next few hours, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen must announce her decision regarding Honduras. There´s not a lot of hope among pro-immigrant groups, as they continue advocating for TPS and for Congress to offer a permanent fix.
But this government has already canceled TPS for Haiti, Sudan, Nicaragua and El Salvador.
The current protection for Hondurans expires on July 5 of this year and, if the TPS is canceled for this group, they are expected to receive another period of one year or 18 months, as it´s happened with the other national groups.
Long, deep roots in America
After a minimum of 20 years in this country, Central Americans with TPS have deep roots in this country. They´ve built families, have children, careers, and property, said Nicole Svajlenka, an immigration analyst at the Center for American Progress in Washington.
“These people have raised American children, many of them are homeowners, they contribute to the economy and are full members of their communities,” Svajlenka said. “They also give financial support to Honduras, a country that has not yet recovered and is still suffering from instability.”
According to the American Immigration Council, Hondurans with TPS have more than 53,000 US children, produce more than $ 31 billion for the US economy, own 9,500 mortgages and have lived in this country for an average of 22 years.
Last October, the US Chamber of Commerce wrote a letter to then-acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke asking her not to cancel the TPS program for Salvadorans, Haitians, Hondurans and others.
“The labor force participation of these groups is more than 80%,” said Neil Bradley, vice president of the business group. “There are industries that will be greatly affected by the loss of these workers, who would no longer have a work permit. These include construction, food, hospitality and home health care services.”
But so far, in almost every case – with the exception of Syria – the government of Donald Trump has been canceling TPS for each nationality, claiming that the conditions that caused the designation are no longer there.
Critics say that the Trump administration is canceling TPS moved by political considerations and that DHS is ignoring the continuation of conditions on the ground in many of these countries.
This has been confirmed in at least one case. Last week it transpired that DHS officials ignored reports by their own career staffers stating that country conditions were still poor in the case of Haiti. During her announcement of TPS cancellation for Haiti, the secretary directly contradicted an internal report and said that the conditions were much improved.
“It is cruel to put a father in this situation”
At home, Juan and Sarah have talked a lot about what they will do if they lose their TPS and work permits.
“It’s hard to even talk about it,” says Juan. “My daughter, who is eight years old, does not want to move to another house, imagine what it would be like to tell her to go to another country.”
The couple has contemplated all the options. Returning with the children to Honduras, leaving them with someone in the United States, allowing them to go into social services… all the options are unthinkable for them.
“They are Americans, they would not have the same opportunities there,” said Juan, who is terrified of taking his children to a country that has the highest homicide rate in the hemisphere and a severe gang problem.
But to go back and leave them behind? It’s something they cannot even imagine. They went thru this as children themselves when their mothers left Honduras.
“It’s very cruel to put a father or a mother in this situation. If we go to Honduras I am afraid for my son who is 14 years old. He´s autistic, but I know that gang members do not care about that, they would still want to recruit him. People are escaping right now. ”
This is their dilemma right now.
“Taking my children to Honduras to those conditions would be ridiculous and at the same time, I would not forgive myself for leaving them here.”