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Why Temporary Protective Status Matters

Filed Under: Featured, Immigrants

Why Temporary Protective Status Matters
The name of the person in this article has been changed to protect his privacy.

“If I am sent back to El Salvador, I will never have a chance at a decent life. I will face abuse and attacks from homophobic gang members, police, and anyone who doesn’t approve of homosexuality. I will be shunned if people find out I’m HIV positive, and I won’t have access to the medication I need,” said Almicar Reyes as part of his closing statement for political asylum. Reyes is one of the estimated 195,000 Salvadorans granted Temporary Protected Status in the United States.

Reyes’ legal status may be terminated in September 2019 if his asylum case is not approved. For Reyes and others, Temporary Protective Status, a program established by Congress in 1990, has been a beacon of hope. El Salvador was designated for Temporary Protective Status after a series of earthquakes devastated the country and displaced millions of people. The earthquakes resulted in over two billion dollars in damages and set the country up for prolonged instability followed by natural disasters and increased gang-related violence.

“From the time I was born, El Salvador has been politically unstable and unsafe.” Conflict between the Salvadoran government and the guerrillas led to a civil war that lasted for 12 years. With the Salvadoran army terrorizing the community, people throughout El Salvador flooded Reyes’ town escaping violence and corruption. “People were in constant fear and had nowhere to turn for protection,” he recalled.

At an early age, Reyes’ mother died, and his father left him and his siblings alone. At the age of five, Reyes was raped by a family member. Four years later, he was raped again, this time it was by a neighbor. Reyes kept the horrible incidents to himself. “There was no one I could trust, and no authority that would protect me.” As if to reinforce this sad reality, a year later, Reyes’ 13-year-old brother molested and raped him on two occasions.

“The times I was raped have ruined my life. Those incidents continue to affect me today. I have tried to forget them but it is hard. The bad thoughts come and go. Sometimes I think I can overcome everything that has happened to me, but other times I feel weak and worthless,” he sorrowfully exclaimed.

Hardship continued to follow Reyes. When he was 17, the Salvadoran gang, Mara Salvatrucha established itself as a pseudo-government by regulating entire towns with violence and intimidation. “The Mara Salvatrucha didn’t accept LGBT people. If they suspected someone was gay, they would kill him,” he shared. Reyes had recently accepted he was gay, but knew that he couldn’t be open about his sexuality. Nevertheless, he was attacked twice for being gay. “The group of men who attacked me said I needed to learn my lesson for being a fag. I was too embarrassed to go to the hospital or report the attack to the police. I was afraid the police wouldn’t actually help me and that my attackers would retaliate.”

At the age of 25, Reyes realized he could never have a decent life in El Salvador, and arrived in the U.S. in 1999. After living with his sister for a few years, Reyes moved to San Francisco. Soon after, a prolonged infection in his leg complicated his health. Sick and with nowhere to stay, he slept on a bench in Civic Center. It was during that time that he learned he was HIV positive. It was his HIV diagnosis that led him to IFR to obtain health, legal and mental health services via his case manager.

“For the first time, I fully opened up to people about the abuse I experienced,” he reflected. “I hope to remain here and build a future with access to the medical care I need, without the constant fear of being attacked or killed for being gay and HIV positive in El Salvador.”

Today, Reyes lives a healthy and hopeful life. He works as a caregiver while patiently waiting for his asylum case to make its way through the courts. Despite his numerous struggles, he remains a positive and kind person who is asking this country for a final chance at life.

Amilcar Reyes’ story is one of thousands impacted by changes in their Temporary Protective Status. As the country battles issues of immigration, sanctuary status, DACA, Temporary Protective Status, and family reunification, we at IFR urge us all to remember that real people facing life-threatening issues will be affected by these changes.

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