My name is Stephanie Arely Zacatares, and my pronouns are she/her/ellas. I am a first-generation college student majoring in Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). I am also a daughter of former Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders from El Salvador. My parents migrated to the U.S. fleeing the civil war, and like many TPS holders, they have established lives here. For the past few years, I experienced living in fear due to TPS's termination, up until last October when my father finally received his permanent residency. Since the initial termination of TPS, my life, and career goals have been completely changed. I went from pursuing a career as a registered nurse to aspiring to be a lawyer. I have focused most of my time and energy on advocating for a permanent residency. When the opportunity arose last year to write my honors thesis, I decided to write it on the impacts the termination of TPS has had on TPS holders and their children. My personal experience of possibly losing a loved one to a broken system inspired me to tell the stories of the voices that often go unheard.
In 2017, the Trump administration terminated TPS for El Salvador and six other countries. I was in class, worried, holding back my tears while in a classroom filled with folks clueless about my situation. I went home feeling hopeless and fearful for my family’s future. It feels like yesterday that I had a hard conversation with my family about my dad’s possible deportation. I did not sleep that night and did not sleep for countless nights afterward. After 24 years of living in this country and being a law-abiding citizen, I could not conceptualize how my father could be deported. The fear of facing family separation led me to join and organize with the National TPS Alliance. For almost four years now, I have been advocating for people like my family. I have learned the importance of standing up for my community. Advocating for my family gave me a reason to push forward and not give up. I have also met extraordinary people whose stories and voices need to be heard. I am hoping my thesis will be able to tell the human side of the termination of TPS.
Future generations will read about the Trump's administration and their racist, homophobic, and xenophobic reign in history books. Still, few will be able to fully recover or move forward without forgetting the horrendous years they had to endure. TPS is a legal status under attack by the Trump administration hoping or wishing to deport more than 400,000 families that have lived in the United States for over 20 years. TPS is a legal status designated by the Department of Homeland Security which allows immigrants from 13 countries to legally work in the U.S. Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1990, which created TPS for countries with ongoing war conflict, environmental disasters, and temporary conditions that prevent immigrants from returning to their country of origin. Although TPS does provide folks with the opportunity to work legally in this country, it does not give them a path to residency that would give them permanent legal status. TPS holders have to pay approximately $500 every 18 months to renew their status and pay taxes.
The termination of this legal status would separate thousands of families. This is why the National TPS Alliance, National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the Central American Resource- Los Angeles (CARECEN) helped filed a class lawsuit against the Trump administration to halt the terminations. Ramos v. Nielsen halted the terminations until this past September when the Ninth-Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Trump's administration. Now more than 400,000 TPS holders and their families face deportation in a matter of months. My research study focuses on the mental health detriments caused by the termination of TPS. Through qualitative research, I am addressing how TPS terminations contribute to anxiety, depression, insomnia, and drug/alcohol abuse. This research project aims to bring a better understanding of mental health instabilities within migrant communities. I have interviewed TPS holders and their children to bring awareness to the mental health needs in our communities. Due to Covid-19, I conducted my interviews via Zoom. I am currently in the process of analyzing my data and organizing my findings.
Thus far, I have found that most TPS holders have never dealt with or treated the traumas they experienced during pre and post-migration (including the most recent attack from the Trump Administration). The termination of their legal status is a contributing factor to the amounting stressors they face daily. I have also found the gendered difference between TPS holders and their reasons for migrating. Most men in my studying mentioned that they migrated in fear of gang persecution and forceful gang involvement that most young men face. On the other hand, women fled from sexual abuse or sexual persecution. In my analysis, I will be using the intersectional lens to unpack these experiences and how they are a contributing factor to their trauma. Many children of TPS holders reported that they suffered from loss of sleep and academic performance because of their parents’ legal status. These are the stories that need to be told and understood by those who have the means to create a residency status for TPS holders.
In 2020, I decided to represent the alliance's youth and joined the 'On the Road 2 Justice TPS' journey bus. The bus delegation was composed of TPS holders and children of TPS holders ready to advocate for permanent residency across the country in over 20 states during a global pandemic and right before presidential elections. The campaign objectives were to bring awareness to the disproportionate effects of Covid-19 in communities of color, motivate folks to vote against racism, and remind legislators of the importance of creating a path to residency for all TPS holders. As a youth committee member, I took the lead in helping create social media posts and taking interviews for English-based media outlets. There were a handful of youth participants in the journey bus, and it was refreshing to share new ideas of mobilization and activism amongst each other. What made this journey extremely impactful for the participants was that we were traveling during the global pandemic and after the Black Lives Matter Movement's uprising. We discussed the importance of practicing inclusivity in the alliance and understanding our privilege during the campaign. We also made it a point to highlight the efforts put forth by the women in the alliance. It is a norm that men in activism overshadow the work of women. I took it upon myself to remind the participants of the importance of understanding intersectionality and positionality. Ultimately, these topics led to moments of reflection and realization for all members of the bus.
Currently, the alliance is mobilizing to remind President Biden and the promises he committed to during his campaign. Now more than ever we need to pass legislation that would guarantee permanent residency with a pathway to citizenship for all TPS holders. TPS holders are organizing both virtually and on the ground, while taking Covid-19 precautions. The National TPS Alliance is expanding its radio stations nationwide through NDLONs ‘Radio Jornalera.’ Along with opening new radio stations, the alliance is also mobilizing via social media, which provides folks with the latest TPS updates. The TPS Youth will be holding its annual retreat next month in hopes of recruiting new members. On the ground, TPS holders are protesting for the right to remain in this country. Just yesterday, February 23, 2021, the alliance held its National TPS Summit in Washington, D.C. at Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House. Holding our elected officials accountable is vital during the Biden administration and the alliance will not stop mobilizing until they receive the well earned right to stay in this country with a permanent status.