Social Justice

Nevadans Speak Out on DACA, TPS, and the Future of Immigration Reform

Last September, President Donald Trump announced the end of the DACA program that has shielded some 900,000 DREAMers from deportation. The Trump Administration has since followed that up by scaling back the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program that’s offered legal protection to select refugees. What does this mean for local immigrant communities?

Here are a few stories of the Nevadans who are suddenly on the front line of Congress’ immigration debate.

Why is this such a big deal for so many Nevadans?

On Monday, the Trump Administration made official its recission of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for some 200,000 Salvadoran refugees effective September 2019. This is just the latest in President Donald Trump’s hard-line anti-immigration agenda. Not only has Trump ordered more deportation raids, and not only is he winding down DACA protection for DREAMers who were brought to the U.S. as children, but he’s even ending what had been a bipartisan program to protect some of the most vulnerable refugees from extreme hardship.

This is quite a big deal for Nevada, as roughly 6,300 affected TPS holders and 13,000 DREAMers call this state home. Within the next 20 months, thousands in Nevada’s workforce will be at risk of losing their work permits, and thousands of families will be at risk of permanent separation.

“Congress needs to do something. […] They need to do something for the people.”
– Elda Membreno, Las Vegas
Photo by Andrew Davey

Elda Membreno is a mother of three who works as a housekeeper at the Rio Hotel. She’s also one of the 6,300 TPS holders who’s waiting as patiently as she can for a solution.

At an immigration reform luncheon with Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Henderson) at Lindo Michoacan last Thursday, Membreno stressed to us that she and other TPS recipients don’t have much time left to wait. “We need a resolution for this. We have a family. I’ll be scared if they take away our TPS.”

Not only is Membreno, a refugee from El Salvador, covered under TPS, but her pregnant daughter is as well. Ultimately, she just wants to keep her family together and other immigrant families whole. “We have a family. What happens to these families? What happens to my family?” Membreno added, “Congress needs to do something. […] They need to do something for the people.”

“They are just kids building their future, and they’re contributing to the country because they’re excellent kids.”
– Sandra Granados, Las Vegas
Photo by Andrew Davey

The next day, we spoke with Sandra Granados at a press conference held by Rep. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas) at Las Vegas City Hall. Granados, who is also a TPS holder originally from El Salvador, expressed fear over what the loss of her status could cause to her three children. “They go to school here. They are doing their best. But now, since the President said that we might get our permits canceled, it has been an echo every day,” Granados said. “They ask, ‘Mommy, are we going back to your home [country]?’”

Granados then explained why her family is here in the U.S. in the first place: “The idea for them is to have a better future.” Granados then asked other Members of Congress to think of how DREAMers and children of TPS holders have become part of American society. “They are just kids building their future, and they’re contributing to the country because they’re excellent kids,” Granados said.

“We’re a very strong community, and we really do care about each other. We need to move forward.”
– Mariana Sarmiento, Las Vegas

Mariana Sarmiento is a UNLV student and DACA recipient. At the Rosen luncheon last Thursday, she described the past four months this way: “It’s a constant fear we’re living with.” Sarmiento then explained why this uncertainty can easily give way to fear. “When you come home, you wonder if your parents will still be there. You wonder if your job will be taken away. You wonder if the [Trump] Administration will do something else to deport your family.”

Still, Sarmiento found reason for hope as Rosen promised to fight for her and everyone else who was sitting at that table. “People really do care, and they’re doing the best they can,” Sarmiento said. “We’re a very strong community, and we really do care about each other. We need to move forward.”

Will these Nevadans get the legal protection they seek?

As Nevada immigrants continue to wait and hope for action, Congress continues to vacillate between potential bipartisan breakthrough and continued hardened gridlock. On Tuesday, President Trump initially seemed to welcome Democratic requests for an expedited “clean DACA bill” and a later, larger comprehensive immigration reform bill during a White House meeting with Congressional leaders. But within minutes, Republican leaders countered with renewed demands for more border security funding and new restrictions on legal immigration.

It’s yet another example of why immigration reform has become such a vexing issue on Capitol Hill. Even with public opinion mostly favoring more compassionate and welcoming immigration policies, Republicans are still struggling to reach an agreement in their own ranks on whether they should genuinely seek a deal with Democrats that will result in permanent protection for DACA or TPS recipients. We’re even seeing this dynamic play out here in Nevada, as Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Carson City) has endorsed the DREAM Act while Senator Dean Heller (R) has not.

Meanwhile, Nevadans like Elda Membreno, Sandra Granados, and Mariana Sarmiento continue to wait for Congress to act. It’s up to Heller, Amodei, and their colleagues to decide how much longer these people must wait.

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