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Nearly 3,000 Rowan residents part of canceled immigration program

By Jessica Coates

jessica.coates@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — About 3,000 Salvadoran immigrants in Rowan County could be affected by the elimination of a federal immigration program, according to Liliana Spears, co-chairwoman of the Salisbury Human Relations Council.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced Monday that it is eliminating Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, for Salvadoran immigrants.

Congress created TPS in 1990 to give immigrants protected status if they are unable to return to their home countries because of “extraordinary and temporary conditions” like political turmoil or an environmental disaster, according to the Center for Migration Studies.

A 7.7-magnitude earthquake struck El Salvador in 2001, meaning that hundreds of thousands of people were displaced. Many of them looked for shelter in the U.S. According to CNN, about 260,000 Salvadoran TPS recipients were still in the U.S. at the end of 2016.

Of the 13 countries that qualify for TPS, El Salvador has the highest number of receiving protection.

Spears, who has been helping the Rowan County immigrant community since 2000, said Cleveland has a big population of Salvadorans, many of whom work in jobs that no one else wants.

“Parts of Cleveland would be a ghost town if they deport these people,” Spears said. “Matika Village, which is right off Airport Road (in Salisbury), would also be a ghost town. And we would be looking for workers for labor that nobody else wants to do.”

Spears said labor is not the only economic factor that will be affected by the deportation of TPS recipients.

She said TPS allows recipients to own cars, businesses and houses and that about 80 percent of TPS recipients in Rowan County own homes.

“There are people that own taxi services, own convenience stores in town, beauty shops. And it gives them that. It makes them feel comfortable when they go to work because they have legal paperwork,” Spears said.

Their ability to purchase property gives Rowan County’s economy a “big boost,” Spears said.

As of Monday, Salvadorans who entered the U.S. in the wake of the 2001 earthquake had their TPS rescinded. They have until Sept. 9, 2019, to return to El Salvador.

Honduran TPS recipients — of which there are about 4,000 in Rowan County, Spears said — won’t learn the fate of their status until May.

Honduras, along with Nicaragua, was devastated by Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

Nicaragua’s TPS will end Jan. 5, 2019, but the Department of Homeland Security postponed a decision on Honduras because the department could not make a decision by the November 2017 deadline.

Spears said she doesn’t expect Hondurans to have their TPS renewed, but she does hope that the federal government will establish an alternative that will give recipients a path to citizenship.

“I’m having faith in Congress. And I’m having faith that what President Trump wants to do is get the credit for fixing immigration. And so I think that will be something,” Spears said. “And I can’t give up hope. I can’t give up hope for these people.”

Spears can be reached at her South Fulton Street convenience store, Latin Mix, at 704-633-3050.

Contact reporter Jessica Coates at 704-797-4222.

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