Fredericksburg, VA – Marcelo Fuentes was born in El Salvador, but fled the country to escape the civil war that left more than 75,000 people dead. Today, Marcelo lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He is one of nearly 200,000 Salvadorans living in this country under Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
On Saturday, Marcelo and his wife renewed their TPS registrations. But the clock is ticking. Since the Trump Administration decided to terminate TPS for Salvadorans on January 8th of this year, Salvadoran TPS holders are only guaranteed protection until September 9, 2019.
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Marcelo Fuentes has spent about half of his life in the United States—first in Los Angeles and now Fredericksburg.
He fled his native El Salvador because of a lengthy Civil War there that left more than 75,000 civilians dead.
“Thanks to God, everything went fine,” Fuentes, 55, who moved to L.A. in November 1990, said through an interpreter.
Within a couple years, he said, he received asylum status, letting him legally live and work—not to mention pay taxes—in the U.S. He’s now among nearly 200,000 Salvadorans with “Temporary Protected Status,” or TPS, which took effect in 2001 after earthquakes devastated the Central American country.
“We work here, we bring the economy up in this country,” Fuentes said.
But the Trump Administration’s recent decision to end TPS protections for Salvadorans has left his future in doubt. The immigrants have until Sept. 9, 2019, to obtain a Green Card or find some other way to stay in the country.
On Saturday, Fuentes and his wife dropped by Fredericksburg Baptist Church, where a Salvadoran consul helped them and about 6 others renew their TPS registrations—perhaps for the last time. The Fredericksburg region is home to about 10,000 Mexicans and Salvadorans, making them the largest immigrant populations here, said Greg Smith of LUCHA Ministries, an immigrant advocacy organization.
Smith said he had hoped more Salvadorans would show up to the four-hour TPS renewal event, which was organized by LUCHA Ministries and Immigrant’s Home. The Salvadoran government also paid an attorney to attend, said Salvadoran consulate Erika Arevalo.
“This is specifically targeted to one immigrant community that has a tremendous need for staying legal in the country over the next 18 months,” Smith said, adding that he did not know the reason for the sparse turnout.
The Trump Administration also plans to rescind TPS over the next 20 months for longtime immigrants from Nicaragua, Haiti and Sudan. A recently filed class-action lawsuit is seeking to shield those TPS holders from deportation.
Mirna Rosales, a native of El Salvador who lives in Spotsylvania, volunteered at the TPS renewal event in Fredericksburg. She said she’s seen immigrant parents separated from their kids, adding: “You don’t know how these children cry.”
About three months ago, she said, the country deported a Salvadoran man she knew after he was caught driving without a license. He subsequently succumbed to gang violence in El Salvador, she said, wiping tears from her eyes.
El Salvador has one of the highest murder rates in the world, with nearly 81 homicides for every 100,000 residents in 2016. “There’s a lot of problems in the world,” Rosales said. “People come here to contribute.”
Fuentes, a construction worker, called Fredericksburg a beautiful city with a sense of community. He said he left L.A. because of the gangs, MS-13 in particular. “There’s not a lot of pollution like in L.A.,” Fuentes, sporting an L.A. Dodgers cap, said of Fredericksburg. “It’s more peaceful.”
He has five children and 11 grandchildren, all of whom live in the U.S.
Fuentes said his daughter, a U.S. citizen who lives in Fredericksburg, petitioned for green cards on behalf of her parents. But that process would require them to return to El Salvador, perhaps for several years, said attorney Bill Botts, who volunteers at the TPS registration event.
Fuentes said he thinks it’s unfair for people to say he should leave the U.S., which he called an “immigrant country.”
But he said he holds out hope that opinions will change—and lawmakers will let them stay.
“God is going to touch Trump’s heart,” he said.