Salvadorans Granted 18-Month Residency Extension
By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
The Department of Homeland Security announced yesterday that it would
extend a program allowing hundreds of thousands of Salvadoran immigrants
living and working temporarily in the United States.
The Temporary Protected Status program was offered after two earthquakes ravaged the Central American country in 2001.
Under the program, Salvadorans who arrived before those disasters were
allowed to stay in the United States because their homeland could not accommodate
About 290,000 Salvadorans, including tens of thousands who have settled in the Washington area, are eligible to re-register for an additional 18 months.
A brief statement released by Homeland Security said the program would
be continued "as part of the administration's ongoing efforts to assist
El Salvador in its
recovery from the devastating earthquakes" in January and February 2001.
The announcement, while expected, was greeted with relief by immigrant groups and the Embassy of El Salvador.
Immigrants are a crucial source of funds for that impoverished nation,
sending home about $2 billion last year. About one-third of that comes
from people in the
temporary program, Salvadoran officials said.
"The Salvadoran community will be very happy to get this news, and 18
months is very generous," said Saul Solorzano, executive director of the
social-service agency in Columbia Heights.
Salvadoran Ambassador Rene Leon said the program made a dramatic difference
in immigrants' lives by giving them legal status. "It means more opportunity
a better job, access to better education, better housing, access to a mortgage, to cars, to licenses."
The announcement came after a lobbying campaign that demonstrated the increased political savvy of Salvadoran immigrant groups.
Seventy-five religious, immigrant, labor and other groups -- ranging
from Catholic Charities USA to the Arab American Institute -- signed a
letter to President Bush
appealing for the 18-month continuation. Supporters sent more than 2,000 postcards to the White House, according to CARECEN officials who organized the
campaign. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus also backed the extension.
The lobbying campaign concluded with a news conference Tuesday at the
parish house of St. John's Church -- known as "the church of the presidents"
Lafayette Square from the White House.
There, in a high-ceilinged room decorated with chandeliers and Persian-style
carpets, local and national activists, as well as a representative of Rep.
Davis III (R-Va.), urged the government to grant the 18-month extension.
One of the speakers, the Rev. Donald F. Lippert of Centro Catolico Hispano
in Mount Pleasant, asked what would happen if the Salvadorans did not get
extension and had to leave.
"How many restaurants and hotels in this city and country would have to close their doors? . . . How many construction sites would have to stop?" he said.
Salvadorans are the largest immigrant group in the Washington area,
with 104,960 counted in the 2000 Census -- 12.6 percent of the foreign-born
residents of the
region. Washington has the country's second-largest Salvadoran community, after Los Angeles.
While the Salvadoran activists cheered the TPS extension, others expressed concern.
Steven A. Camarota, of the Center for Immigration Studies, said that
the government was creating a problem by providing one extension after
another to immigrants
who had arrived illegally.
"The longer we don't enforce the law, the more difficult it becomes
to do so, because people put down roots, they become part of a community,
they have children
born in the U.S.," he said.
"What was originally envisioned as a stop-gap, short-term measure to
cover small numbers of people in an emergency situation has now grown to
be a large number
of people, and not necessarily related to any ongoing emergency," said Camarota, whose group wants less immigration.
The new extension, the program's second, runs from September to March 2005. Authorities said they would provide more details about registration soon.
Leon, the Salvadoran ambassador, said his government would continue to press the U.S. government to grant a more permanent legal status to immigrants.
"We are not going to sit on our hands for 18 months or 24 months waiting
for another TPS extension," he said. "We will seek in the U.S. Congress
. . . a migration
stability that is more definitive."