January 8, 2018 at 6:49 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers and Ernesto Valle
Salvadoran LGBT activists criticize loss of protected immigrant status

Immigrants rights advocates gather in front of the White House on Jan. 8, 2018, to protest President Trump’s decision to end the Temporary Protected Status program for Salvadorans. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

LGBT rights advocates in El Salvador have sharply criticized the Trump administration’s announcement that Salvadorans will no longer receive protected immigrant status in the U.S.

Salvadorans have been able to receive temporary residency permits through the Temporary Protected Status program since two earthquakes devastated the Central American country in 2001.

Up to 200,000 Salvadorans in the U.S. have TPS, which allows people from countries that have suffered war and/or national disasters over the last two decades to receive temporary residency permits. They have until Sept. 9, 2019, to leave the U.S. or face potential deportation.

“Following the 2001 earthquake, El Salvador received a significant amount of international aid to assist in its recovery efforts, including millions of dollars dedicated to emergency and long-term assistance,” said Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in a press release. “Many reconstruction projects have now been completed. Schools and hospitals damaged by the earthquakes have been reconstructed and repaired, homes have been rebuilt, and money has been provided for water and sanitation and to repair earthquake damaged roads and other infrastructure. The substantial disruption of living conditions caused by the earthquake no longer exist.”

Nielsen said the 18-month delay in ending TPS for Salvadorans will “provide time for individuals with TPS to arrange for their departure or to seek an alternative lawful immigration status in the” U.S. and “provide time for El Salvador to prepare for the return and reintegration of its citizens.”

“Only Congress can legislate a permanent solution addressing the lack of an enduring lawful immigration status of those currently protected by TPS who have lived and worked in the United States for many years,” she added. “The 18-month delayed termination will allow Congress time to craft a potential legislative solution.”

Dozens of immigrant rights advocates who gathered outside the White House on Monday sharply criticized the Trump administration’s decision. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser in a statement said ending TPS for Salvadorans “will in no way make Americans safer, stronger or more prosperous.”

El Salvador has one of the world’s highest per capita murder rates.

MS-13 — which Salvadoran immigrants who fled their homeland’s civil war in the 1980s formed in Los Angeles in the 1980s — and other violent street gangs operate throughout El Salvador. Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity remains pervasive in the country.

“It is important to remember there is a large number of LGBT people who are among the people affected by the cancellation of TPS for El Salvador,” Ámbar Alfaro of ASPIDH Arcoiris Trans, a trans Salvadoran advocacy group, told the Washington Blade after the Trump administration made its announcement. “For LGBT people who return to the country after living in a place with opportunities, it will be like going back 60 years in terms of everything they have achieved.”

“The United States is a country of opportunity, to develop freely,” she added. “There are public policies that regulate and support the LGBT community.”

Nicolás Rodríguez, executive director of El Salvador G, a gay Salvadoran blog and website, agreed with Alfaro.

“The LGBTI community is going to suffer because of the cancellation of TPS,” Rodríguez told the Blade on Monday. “They will return to a country where a different picture is sold, where there is a different reality where being an LGBTI person can cause them to become victims of discrimination.”

Activist: El Salvador must prepare for TPS holders, ‘Dreamers’

Monday’s announcement is the latest in a series of controversial immigration measures the Trump administration has taken since it took office nearly a year ago.

The Trump administration last November announced it would end TPS for Haitians and Nicaraguans. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which has allowed roughly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. and obtain work permits, is set to expire on March 5 unless Congress and President Trump reach an agreement to maintain the Obama-era policy.

Trump has effectively banned the citizens of six predominantly Muslim countries — Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen — and North Korea from entering the U.S. The White House has also proposed cutting the number of legal immigrants to the country by half.

Andrea Ayala, executive director of Espacio de Mujeres Lesbianas por la Diversidad, a Salvadoran advocacy group known by the acronym ESMULES, last September described the Trump administration’s immigration policy as “dehumanizing.” Ayala on Monday cited statistics from the Human Rights Campaign that indicate more than 45 percent of “Dreamers” who have benefitted from DACA — which includes Salvadorans with TPS — are LGBT or intersex.

“This data is relevant,” she told the Blade. “As a country and state, we must take into account the policies and laws that we must develop to prepare ourselves for their integration into our society. It will be a challenge for everyone since Salvadoran society is one that is used to discrimination.”

ESMULES Executive Director Andrea Ayala in San Salvador, El Salvador, on Sept. 25, 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Ernesto Valle reported from San Salvador, El Salvador.

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