LOS ANGELES, California—Veronica Lagunas has an emergency plan. Without the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) that has allowed her to remain in the U.S. for the last 17 years, the 39-year-old mother of two says she won’t wait around for ICE to knock on her door.
"The first step is to change houses, because [authorities] have our info, our fingerprints and addresses,” says Lagunas, whose children—8- and 13-years-old—are both U.S. citizens.
Without TPS, some 200,000 Salvadorans will be subject to deportation beginning in September 2019. California is home to many of them; more than 30,000 Salvadoran TPS-holders live in the Los Angeles area. Another 32,000 live in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region.
Lagunas’ family has considered moving to another city in California, or a state with laws in place to protect immigrants. But their preferred plan is to move to Canada, which has become a destination for immigrants fleeing Trump’s immigration agenda.
"Immigrants are more welcome there than here and for my kids life wouldn’t be that different in Canada,” says Lagunas, who works cleaning offices. She is married to an undocumented Mexican immigrant.
Lagunas began thinking about a move to Canada when the country announced it would accept Dreamers after the DACA program was canceled in September. “I said, if there’s an opportunity for them, there’s also one for us,” she says. “Maybe we’d have a better life there.”
Lagunas has never lived in the shadows. After a series of earthquakes hit El Salvador in January 2001, she migrated to California with her parents on a tourist visa. On March 9, 2001, the Attorney General designated El Salvador for TPS.
She says she’s contributed to the U.S. economy for 17 years, through her work at a restaurant and cleaning. TPS recipients also pay almost $500 every 18 months to renew their permits, meaning most will have paid almost $10,000 over the course of their stay in the United States.
Without TPS, she’ll be left without work, health insurance or income. "It’s going to be traumatic to feel like [ICE] is following me, looking for me, that they could arrive at any moment,” she says.
Returning to El Salvador is not an option, she says, citing poverty, lack of employment and gang violence there. “My son is 13, the perfect age for the gangs to come looking for him,” she says.
Under TPS, which is granted due to conflict, natural disaster or other extraordinary conditions, immigrants can live and work legally in the United States and be protected from deportation.
The alarm bells first rang out on the program in May, when John Kelly, then secretary of Homeland Security, announced that 46,000 Haitians should prepare to return home when their TPS status expired next January.
In November, DHS announced the end of TPS for Nicaragua and an automatic extension for another six months for Honduras, pending further review.
Lagunas traveled to Washington in October and December to advocate for an immigration solution. She will return next month with her two children.
"The message is to see our kids, our families; that we don’t want to be separated,” she says. “We want them to see how this is going to affect us -- as well as the economy of this country. What else do they want from us to give us residency? We’ve behaved.”
TPS beneficiaries contribute heartily to the economy. A recent study by the left-leaning Center for American Progress (CAP) estimates that the United States would lose $164 billion in gross domestic product (GDP) over the next decade if Salvadoran, Honduran, and Haitian workers with TPS were removed from the labor force.
According to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, if those TPS holders lost their work authorization, contributions to Social Security and Medicare would go down $6.9 billion in a decade.
Salvadoran officials recommend that eligible citizens begin the process to become legal, either through their children or spouses.
Though Lagunas says she has no legal channels through which to pursue a permanent solution, she continues to search for a better future. She recently began English classes at a community college in L.A.
“Why are we being hounded?” she says.