Perla Canales is a patient person. The Staten Island resident has lived legally in the United States for nearly two decades, as a refugee from Honduras. Every 18 months, she submits to thorough security checks and fingerprinting, just to continue working and living here.
But her patience and drive are being cruelly repaid.
On May 4, the administration of President Donald Trump revoked Temporary Protected Status for Perla and 57,000 other Hondurans. They will join more than 300,000 people from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti and Nepal whose status under the program for people from countries in turmoil was also recently terminated.
The Trump administration’s decisions to end the program for these countries came despite recommendations from career diplomats and other State Department personnel to extend it.
So now, TPS holders are facing the possibility of losing their homes and businesses, being separated from the families they’ve raised here, and destabilizing the communities they’ve built.
Deporting hundreds of thousands of U.S. residents back to some of the most dangerous countries in the Western hemisphere is not just an affront to American values, but a self-defeating strategy that will have negative consequences at home.
A 2016 Cornell University study found that communities with increased deportations had more foreclosures. TPS holders have a high rate of home ownership — almost one in three — and sending them home would be a disaster for the communities where many of them live.
Perla, for example, works as a cleaner at the Staten Island Mall and is an active union member. She fears being separated from two of her children, her grandchildren, and being cut off from the means to help support her other two kids and her mother in Honduras. It is a country she no longer knows, where political turmoil and criminal gangs make life dangerous for many.
But even in her darkest moment, Perla holds out hope that Congress will approve legislation to provide a long-term solution for TPS holders like herself. It is a solution that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said recently he supported, even as the Trump administration has ended TPS for one country after another.
As the possibility of losing her legal status, her job and her life here come closer to reality, Perla, rather than hiding, has spoken out about the unjust treatment of immigrants, and marched to support the rights of workers to come together and organize.
Perla has also worked to help Puerto Ricans fighting for a just recovery after Hurricane Maria. She’s marched and spoken in public and met with Congressional representatives in her home district of Staten Island and in Washington, D.C.
She’s seen that even in the midst of these oppressive circumstances, when she works with her union and other community members, we can reverse some of these attacks, and that we can build important victories to support working families, whether U.S. born or immigrant.
“I was very upset when I heard that TPS was ending for us,” she says. “But after I had a good cry, I was ready to keep talking to everyone in Congress we have to talk to, so they understand that we’re just asking to keep living a normal life and contributing to our communities here.”
Hector Figueroa is the president of Local 32BJ SEIU, which represents 163,000 property service workers — window cleaners, airport workers, superintendents, doormen, maintenance workers, cleaners, porters and security officers — in 11 states and Washington, D.C. This column was written for the Progressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.