After 24 years in the United States — a little over half of his life —Danilo Amaya considers this his country.
“I truly feel more like I belong here than over there,” says the 46-year-old.
“Over there” is his native El Salvador, which he left when he was a young man. But after more than two decades in the US, his future “here” is on shaky ground.
The North Hollywood resident is one of approximately 200,000 Salvadorans under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) who now face uncertainty. On Monday, Sept. 14, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Trump Administration can end the program.
This could mean a potential deportation, starting in 2021 when Amaya’s permit expires. TPS allows him to have a work permit and not worry about being deported.
“When I heard the news I was a little confused. We didn’t expect to have a negative decision,” said Amaya, who was at work when the 2-1 ruling was announced.
“We saw the DACA case and we thought it was going to be something similar, but it was the opposite. At first I felt really down,” he admits.
In June of 2019, the US Supreme Court rejected the Trump Administration’s attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
The decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals impacts not only Salvadorans, but also Haitians, Nicaraguans and Sudanese — some 300,000 people in total, many of whom are parents of US-born children who have never traveled outside the US, nor are they fluent or even speak the language of their parents’ homeland.
Lawyers representing the TPS beneficiaries had argued before the Court that ending the protection deprives these children of their lives in the US and puts the parents in a difficult situation of having to leave the country without their kids. Neither case is viewed as an option.
The protections offered under TPS have been in jeopardy the past two years.
In January 2018, President Trump announced the TPS program would end for Salvadorans on Sept. 9, 2019. The government argued the Central American country had already recovered from the back-to-back earthquakes in 2001 that had prompted the US to approve the program for them.
The announcement came the same year the President referred to Haiti, El Salvador and various African nations as “s—thole countries.”
Pro-immigrant groups sued and the Department of Homeland Security extended the program through January of 2020, when another extension was granted. The litigation has continued until now.
The court’s decision was based on a lawsuit arguing the government decided to end the program for racist reasons.
Two out of the three panel judges ruled that the plaintiffs failed to prove that racial animus was a factor when the administration canceled TPS.
According to a summary of the decision issued by the court:
“The [judges] explained that while the district court’s findings that President Trump expressed racial animus against ‘nonwhite, non-European’ immigrants, and that the White House influenced the TPS termination decisions, were supported by record evidence, the district court cited no evidence linking the President’s animus to the TPS terminations — such as evidence that the President personally sought to influence the TPS terminations, or that any administration officials involved in the TPS decision-making process were themselves motivated by animus.”
Amaya and others vow to continue the fight.
“We’re not afraid. I feel this is motivating us to fight, to work even harder,” Amaya said.
“Hopefully, with the help of God, this (TPS) will continue. I have faith we’re going to get something positive in the end.”
The next step is a “Freedom Bus” ride that will take TPS beneficiaries on a cross-country, 32-state trip from Los Angeles to Washington, DC.
Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Labor Organizing Network (NDLON), said the idea is to gather support for their plight.
“We know US citizens are better than Trump. We have to convince the people to support us in this fight,” he said, noting that the ultimate goal is not to get a TPS extension, but permanent residency.
“We have earned it,” Alvarado said in reference to the work TPS beneficiaries have done for decades, the taxes they have paid. “What moves this President is feelings of hate and racism. What moves us is the love of our families, the love for our work, the desire to be free.”
Alvarado compared the decision to a “stumble.”
“We’re going to be using the courts to fight this. As long as we breathe, we’re going to keep fighting,” he said.
Amaya, who has been active in the National TPS Alliance, is considering joining the “Freedom Bus” for a week or two.
He’s not giving up, and said going back to his native country is out of the question.
Both El Salvador and the US would lose if TPS beneficiaries are deported, Amaya said.
“It would be disastrous for Salvadoran families — especially now with the pandemic. I don’t think my country can withstand receiving so many people and accommodating them. It can’t,” he said.
Going back to a country he barely recognizes now, where he no longer has any immediate family, is not an option for him.
Afterbeing rejected for political asylum he was able to successfully apply for a TPS permit.
“Thanks to this permit, I was able to get my identification, my driver’s license. I was able to buy a car. I’ve been able to travel,” said Amaya, who first lived in Colorado when he arrived in the US.
The man who works at a hospital’s janitorial department believes the recent ruling will only push others benefited by the program to rise up and act.
“A lot of people are going to wake up from the dream they were having and they’re going to start fighting,” Amaya said.