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ICYMI: Washington Post Magazine, “American Girl: A Story of Immigration, Fear and Fortitude”

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Families Forced to Come to Terms with Separation as TPS Expiration Deadlines Loom

In an article for Washington Post Magazine, Jennifer Miller tells the story of a young 14-year old girl, Emily, who is forced to grapple with separation from her parents after the Trump administration terminated Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for El Salvador. Emily is just one of hundreds of thousands of US citizen children whose parents could be forcibly deported after their legal status expires.

Excerpts of Miller’s article is below:

Emily glanced down to see a news alert on her phone: The Trump administration was canceling temporary protected status for El Salvador, a government program that had allowed Emily’s parents, both Salvadoran natives, to live and work legally in the United States for the past 17 years. According to the news, on Sept. 9, 2019, her mother, Maria Rivas, and her father, Jose, would be ordered to leave the country.

As she took this in, Emily’s heart began to pound. She couldn’t breathe; she could barely stand. By the time her friend arrived, she was sobbing uncontrollably. “I didn’t know what was going to happen to us,” she told me a few months later. “We’d been so secluded from this. We’d always thought we’ll be okay.” But now she realized that her parents had only been feigning optimism about the future since Donald Trump was elected president. “They can’t hide it anymore,” she remembered thinking. “They can’t say nothing is going to happen.”

… In canceling TPS for Haitians, Hondurans, Nepalis, Sudanese, Nicaraguans and Salvadorans, the Trump administration forced families like Emily’s to confront the question that past administrations had avoided: What would happen to all these American kids when their parents were officially ordered to leave the country?

… Emily and her parents sat at their kitchen table talking about the future. Maria explained that if she and Jose were ordered out of the country, they would leave Emily here, in the care of an American family for whom Maria used to nanny. “El Salvador is not a place for her,” said Jose quietly. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. I looked at Emily and caught a couple of tears dripping from her chin onto the red-and-white checkered tablecloth.

Maria glanced at Ethan in the other room. She seemed determined to take him with them. “He’s too young,” she said. “He’d be too much of a burden” to leave here. It would be too dangerous to send him to school in El Salvador, but Maria believed she could home-school him. “I’ll make sure he learns,” she said and beckoned Ethan over. Suddenly shy, he crept to his mother’s side and nuzzled against her. “I try not to worry him too much,” Maria said, hugging him.

… When the Craigs heard all of this, they immediately offered to become Emily and Ethan’s guardians. Maria wrote a letter nominating them and had it notarized. In the end, immigration let the family back into the country without a hitch, and for the next six years, the letter sat in a drawer in the Craigs’ home. Lynette says she didn’t seriously think about the issue again until the administration canceled TPS for Haiti in November 2017. “That’s when I really started to panic and started having conversations with [Maria] about what we’re going to do,” Lynette recalls. “I told her, ‘Of course, I’ll take the kids.’  ”

Over the next few months, the Craigs began to explore more formal options for guardianship and to think about some of the practicalities involved: Could Emily and Ethan get sibling preference alongside Harvey and Hudson in the D.C. public school lottery? Could they get the kids on Ryan’s health insurance plan? The couple wanted to be ready to take in both kids, though they knew Maria was extremely reluctant to leave Ethan behind. Maria spoke frequently about how her son needed his mother — and how she didn’t want to take advantage of Lynette and Ryan’s generosity.