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Protesters in support of temporary protected status demonstrate in front of the Welcome to Las Vegas sign on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

This story has been translated and edited from its original Spanish version.

The Trump administration on Monday announced a one-year extension on work permits for thousands of Salvadorans covered by the Temporary Protected Status program — a development that prompted celebration but also fell far short of what Nevada TPS recipients are seeking.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that the government is extending the validity of work permits for Salvadorans with TPS through January 4, 2021, after initially canceling the program and then facing a court battle that has left the program in limbo. Recipients will have an additional year to return to their country of origin after the conclusion of the TPS-related lawsuits.

"They said it was impossible. That the Salvadoran government couldn’t do anything about this," Salvadoran President Najib Bukele wrote on social media. "But we knew that our allies wouldn’t leave us to fend for ourselves. We didn’t want to share this sooner because we could interrupt this dialogue. But after all, thank God, the TPS program was achieved."

A press release from DHS said U.S. and Salvadoran officials signed documents “to implement greater collaboration on information sharing, border and aviation security, and international diplomacy.”

Alexandra Hill, the foreign affairs secretary of El Salvador, said the extension will provide relief to some 200,000 beneficiaries who have been protected by the TPS program since 2001. The program offers legal status to people in the U.S. from certain countries that have experienced natural disasters or other crises and whose homelands are considered too unstable to receive them back.

Although DHS reiterated that the goal of the U.S. government is to create an orderly process to help Salvadoran TPS recipients return home, the agency acknowledged that could be problematic.

“A sudden inflow of 250,000 individuals to El Salvador could spark another mass migration to the U.S. and reinvigorate the crisis at the southern border,” the statement said. “Taking into account these concerns, we have decided to provide additional time to work out that plan. We cannot allow the progress the President has made the past several months to be negated.”

Members of Nevada’s congressional delegation praised the decision but added that the forced return of members from the community would cause chaos and confusion not only for families living in the United States but in El Salvador as well.

"I will continue to make sure that we have a clear and lawful immigration policy based on the ideals of our nation, to keep families together and protect our national security and interests," said Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford.

Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen called on Congress to pursue legislation to address the TPS issue.

“I’m relieved to see that the TPS status for over 200,000 Salvadorans will be temporarily extended for one year,” Rosen said in a statement. “While this is a positive step forward, the Senate must take up the House-passed American Dream and Promise Act of 2019 (H.R. 6) to ensure stability for our hard working Nevada families.”

Searching for a solution

Although he was grateful for the news, Pablo Deras, a Salvadoran beneficiary of TPS since 2001, said in a phone interview that the measure really only represents temporary relief.

“The extension makes very little difference. In the future we don’t know what’s going to happen. After being in limbo and anxiety all this time, this is a small relief for Salvadorans, but we remain mostly the same,” he said in Spanish. “We’re all thinking what is going to happen to our families and hard work after more than 20 years in this country.”

Deras, who has lived in Las Vegas since 2006 and is a member of the TPS Road to Residency Committee of Nevada, added that TPS has allowed him to work legally, have better employment options, own two homes and provide for his wife and 14-year-old son, who was born in the U.S.

A janitor for restaurants at the Wynn Resort in Las Vegas, Deras said that the recipients of the program are continuing the fight and waiting for the resolution of the Ramos v. Nielsen lawsuit.

Last fall, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Network of Day Laborers Organizations, among others, filed the suit, leading to a court decision to prohibit the government’s cancellation of the TPS program for Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti and El Salvador while the case is being resolved in court.

“We don’t want a solution for a year,” he said. “We want to have something secure, without arriving at the same place — being worried that we’re going to be separated from our children."

That is one of the things that most worries TPS recipient Donis Hernandez, who has lived in Las Vegas for 13 years: The future of his family.

“It’s an insecurity for a person, not to know what we’ll face from one day to the next,” he said in Spanish. “TPS has allowed me to give a better life to my family, when in these countries there aren’t opportunities.”

Hernandez, who is also a member of the local TPS committee, said one of his two children is a beneficiary of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). That program, like TPS, faces legal hurdles, including a hearing before the Supreme Court on Nov. 12.

But he was pleased the two countries are cooperating.

“The new government in charge of El Salvador has been a big help because it has a good relationship with the U.S.,” he said. 

Last September the Salvadoran government reached an agreement with the United States to welcome asylum seekers from other countries, while Bukele, who took office in June, pledged to reduce undocumented migration.

In January 2018, the Trump administration announced that the designation of the TPS program for people from El Salvador would end on September 9, 2019, but that termination is on hold. In compliance with a federal court ruling in March of this year, DHS had extended until January 2, 2020, the validity of documents related to the TPS program for Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti and El Salvador, including work permits.

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