This is a continuation of the Herald Gazette’s immigration series, “No place to call home.”
On the morning of Oct. 7, dozens of local families cheered in the parking lot of the Glen Cove Knights of Columbus lodge, waving American and Salvadoran flags to welcome a colorful bus. Painted on the side of the bus were scenes from an immigration court and of law enforcement officers separating a mother and child, and the words, “Not one more deportation” and “Jornada por la Justicia” — Journey for Justice.
“What do we want?” Oscar Salinas, coordinator of Pro Residencia TPS Long Island, yelled in Spanish as the passengers disembarked.
“Residencia!” the crowd yelled back over loud drumming and the crackling of a large wooden noisemaker.
“When do we want it?” Salinas hollered.
“Now!” the crowd responded, flags waving.
Followed by chants of “Si se puede,” or “Yes we can,” the crowd of 50 adults and children marched into the lodge, where they enjoyed traditional Salvadoran chicken sandwiches and conversations about the federal Temporary Protected Status program, or TPS.
The bus riders — who had traversed the country for seven weeks, starting in Los Angeles, before stopping in Glen Cove — were on a mission to educate people about the program and provide resources to immigrants who are legally in the country under TPS. The designation is given to people from certain countries who came to the U.S. seeking refuge from adverse conditions such as natural disasters and civil wars.
Pro Residencia TPS Long Island formed in June 2017, an effort by Salinas and Cecilia Martinez, from Glen Cove, to raise awareness of TPS issues. Together they worked on creating committees in Glen Cove and Hempstead, as well as in Suffolk County.
TPS holders, families, friends and supporters waved flags and chanted messages of hope and encouragement as the bus pulled up in a number of communities. On Saturday, its first stop was at the Salvadoran consulate in Brentwood, and that evening it parked in front of the Long Island Rail Road station in Hempstead. After leaving Glen Cove on Sunday morning, it headed to a church in Riverhead.
“I think we had a good effect in the community,” Salinas said. “People who didn’t know about our committees are now eager to help us grow and raise our voices. It was so important to get the community’s support.”
TPS holders from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Sudan — most of whom, at least in New York, have legally lived, worked and paid taxes in the United States for over two decades — face possible deportation as the Department of Homeland Security has gradually removed those countries from eligibility in the program.
On Oct. 3, a federal judge in California issued a preliminary injunction that prevented DHS from continuing to do so. The injunction blocked the cancellation of TPS for El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan, but did not include the cancellation for Honduras. Honduran officials have said that the country could begin reabsorbing the refugees who fled Hurricane Mitch in 1998, according to a June news release from DHS.
“Thank God for this judge,” Jose Salinas, Oscar’s father, a Glen Cove resident and a TPS recipient from El Salvador, said in his native Spanish through a translator. “I’ve been here 23 years. I pay taxes every single year. And now you want to tell me that I have to leave?”
The elder Salinas said that he had spent the past two decades building a life on the North Shore. “I have children here, I have grandchildren here,” he said. “This is where I’ve rooted myself, and where I’ve grown.”
Others said they were concerned about the conditions of the countries they would be forced to return to. “I’m afraid of El Salvador,” Glen Cove resident Adela Rivas said. “I’m afraid of the violence and the crime. My children wouldn’t have a future there because of the state of the country.”
For those who can ponder the issue from a distance, Jose Salinas said, immigration can seem political. For him, and the 10,000 other TPS recipients in Nassau County, he said, “It’s personal. We’re not political. We’re just standing up for ourselves.”
“I believe that if we stay quiet, Rivas said, “we’re going to be forgotten.”
Bringing the Journey for Justice bus to Glen Cove, Rivas said, was a way for local TPS recipients to stand up for themselves and raise their voices. “We want people to know what’s going on,” she said, “because we need their help.”
The bus’s journey will end in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 9, where the passengers will rally in front of the White House. Pro Residencia TPS Long Island committee members have plans to attend.
Salinas said that TPS recipients can’t stop because of the injunction, because “it’s temporary, and it’s not enough.”
For him and Rivas, the journey’s destination is permanent residency. The alternative, Rivas said, would be bad for the area’s economy. “We are customers,” she said. “We buy things in this community. Our departure is going to hurt your pocket.”
Salinas said that this is an important moment in America’s immigration story. “Everybody was undocumented at some point,” he said. “Everybody’s [relatives] came here and faced challenges before being accepted as citizens. This is us facing that.”