By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — A police report detailing threats on the lives of a family from El Salvador is one of the documents on diocesan Immigration Counselor Gricelda Garnica’s desk. She is striving to assist the Illinois family to prevent the deportation of two of their loved ones — the wife of one of the siblings and the sister of the siblings, both of whom are undocumented.
The sister is a Temporary Protection Status (TPS) holder while the wife of one of her brothers has no legal protection and is undocumented. Both, however, face deportation after the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, terminated TPS for El Salvador, effective Sept. 9, 2019. Disaster-related conditions caused by earthquakes in 2001 no longer exist, so TPS designation must be terminated, Nielsen decided earlier this month. It is the latest in a string of decisions that has led to ending TPS designation for undocumented persons from Haiti and Nicaragua, also.
The end of TPS designation for El Salvador impacts about 200,000 Salvadorans in the U.S. and their families, including the Illinois family seeking help from the Diocese of Davenport. The family’s five siblings have been in the U.S. for 28 years, after being granted TPS because of violence in El Salvador in the early 1990s. In addition to the TPS holder; two siblings are U.S. citizens and two others are legal permanent residents. They fear for the lives of any family member who returns to El Salvador because of the rampant violence and poverty that plague their homeland.
Two years ago, the five siblings returned to El Salvador for the funeral of their mother. When the siblings arrived, the mother’s house was surrounded by gang members. A gang member handed a phone to one of the Illinois brothers, who received a death threat from the man on the other end of the line, Garnica said. The caller, who identified himself as the head of the brutal M-S 13 gang, demanded $4,000 from the Illinois man as a guarantee of protection for the family. Without the money, the gang leader said the gang would kill all of the siblings, but not before cutting the Illinois man into pieces, Garnica said. “They didn’t have the money.”
While outside the church for the funeral Mass, the siblings and a nephew managed to escape from the gang members and headed to a highway. They spotted a police car and asked the police officer for help. He declined, until the siblings said that two of them were U.S. citizens and had alerted the U.S. Embassy about the gang’s threat. The police officer took the siblings to the police station in San Salvador where they filed a report. That report is on Garnica’s desk, along with a newspaper clipping and the mother’s death certificate.
The siblings were allowed to leave El Salvador and flew back to Illinois. They thought they were safe until learning last month that the federal government was ending TPS status, Garnica said. The Illinois family’s case is one of about 10 TPS cases on file in the diocesan Immigration office. She and Immigration Counselor Karina Garnica have received calls from the worried TPS recipients.
“They are anxious. A lot of them don’t have any other way to get legal status,” Gricelda Garnica said. “They don’t want to go back because they can’t go back because of the violence there with the gangs. Their relatives have been killed by gangs.”
A married U.S. citizen can apply for residency for a TPS spouse. However, each case has to be examined separately to determine eligibility, Garnica said. U.S. citizen children who are 21 or older can petition on behalf of their undocumented parents, brothers and sisters. However, those relatives must return to their country of origin for 10 years before they can be considered for U.S. residency.
Garnica is petitioning the U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services (USICS) for a waiver for the wife of one of the siblings who is a U.S. citizen. If the waiver is approved, the wife would have to go the American Embassy in El Salvador, but nowhere else, before returning to the U.S. But Garnica has exhausted efforts to assist the TPS holder without having her return to El Salvador, where she could be killed. The Immigration Counselor believes she has “convincing proof that the family members’ lives would be in danger – were any of them to return to El Salvador.”
Most of the TPS recipients, and other immigrants, “come here for a reason,” Garnica said. “They come here escaping crime and looking for a better life and safety for their family and kids.”