Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, is designated by the Department of Homeland Security. It allows people from various countries to live in the U.S. as a temporary “safe haven.” In late 2017, the Trump Administration announced it would terminate the program for four countries; however, in October, a federal judge in California put those plans on hold until there is further review by the courts. KUNR Reporter Karina Gonzalez visited a TPS holder from Nicaragua, whose status was originally set to terminate Saturday.
As you walk into Yazmin Valenzuela's home in Carson City, you are instantly welcomed by her dog, Chocho. Valenzuela has been a TPS holder for twenty years. She came to the United States in 1999 to escape the political instability in Nicaragua. Now, she's 62 and lives peacefully with her son, granddaughters and Chocho.
“TPS has allowed all Nicaraguans to have had a dignified life, above all with freedom,” said Valenzuela. “It also allows us to have a well-paid job and I’m able to buy a house. I could move around to others cities and states in the United States, travel in peace, live in peace, provide an education for my kids and give them a better future because we are legal.”
As of 2017, there were more than 4,400 Temporary Protected Status holders living in Nevada. That's according to the Congressional Research Service.
TPS is currently designated for ten countries but was set to expire over the next couple of years. However, there is an ongoing federal court case, putting that termination on hold for four countries, including Nicaragua, El Salvador, Haiti, and Sudan.
“So, it's still a bit up in the air right now,” said Steve Brazelton, an attorney in Reno who specializes in immigration law. “The renewal periods have ended; however, with this recent court decision, work permits are being extended so we're kind of on a see-as-we-go basis right now.”
At this point, the Justice Department has appealed the ruling that has temporarily halted the program’s elimination. A department spokesman said in a statement that “The Court’s decision usurps the role of the executive branch…” The statement also defends the White House and Department of Homeland Security, saying the Justice Department “will continue to fight for the integrity of our immigration laws and our national security."
While TPS remains in legal limbo, Valenzuela and many others don’t know if and when they’ll have to leave.
“I don't want to stay here illegally. I know what it's like being here illegally in this country. I know what people suffer,” said Valenzuela. “But for those of us who have worked, who have been good citizens, who have paid our taxes and have contributed to the development of this country, it’s unfair for us to be thrown out.”
If Valenzuela returns to Nicaragua, she'll be leaving behind her two adult children and her grandkids. Her daughter, Ana Sanchez Valenzuela, is a DACA recipient who is expecting her first child in the spring.
“Well, it's gonna be hard for us. I don't want her to go back,” said Sanchez Valenzuela. “We've been living here for so many years. She's been living here for 20 years and we don't want her to go back, especially with the situation right now in Nicaragua. They're not going to treat her like she's a Nicaraguan citizen.”
Sanchez Valenzuela, 33, has been a DACA recipient since the program was created in 2012. She has also been dealing with the uncertainty of her status.
“I'm trying not worry about it. I know it's hard and I don't want to think that it will be cancelled. And I think that it's not fair because all of us have been studying,” said Sanchez Valenzuela. “For me, if they cancel DACA and I had to go back to my country, it's gonna be...it's going to be like starting from the bottom again because I don't know what I'm gonna do there.”
The mother and daughter would both face difficult situations if they are forced to return to Nicaragua, where the country remains unsafe.
“So, the question is how are we going to return to Nicaragua in a situation like that?" asked Valenzuela. "[We would] be thrown into the lion’s den, especially because we would be returning from the United States; they consider the United States to be the enemies of mankind, so all of us here are considered to be dissidents by the government. We, the Nicaraguans, cannot return now, in a chaotic situation. It would mean sending us to endure hunger or be incarcerated.”
Knowing this, Valenzuela still mentally prepared herself to return to her country since, at one point, her status was set to expire on January 5, 2019. Valenzuela thought about retiring in Nicaragua, but with the current situation, she says it would be very difficult to do so.
She said returning to Nicaragua could mean facing hunger or even incarceration.
Attorney Steve Brazelton echoes those concerns for the thousands of other TPS holders in Nevada who are grappling with this uncertain situation.
"It's tough for many of those people just to return after 20 years,” said Brazelton. “They may no longer have a home available, they may no longer have the same family support when they return, so that's a very difficult situation for those people facing the prospect of returning to their home countries after being here for 20+ years.”
While programs such as DACA and TPS remain up in the air, lawmakers such as Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have suggested a compromise bill that would protect the programs in exchange for funding border security. At the same time, groups around the country are mobilizing to save the program, including a coalition of labor unions called Working Families United.
For now, Valenzuela remains hopeful and will continue working towards retirement and being present in her grandchildren’s lives.
Karina Gonzalez is a senior at the Reynolds School of Journalism and works for Noticiero Móvil, a Spanish-English multimedia news outlet for Northern Nevada.