When I was in grade school, my mother sometimes took my younger sister and me to her job cleaning offices; as a single mother from El Salvador, she often had no one to watch us. I’d help out so that she could finish faster. While dusting, I’d set down my rag and sit at a desk. I’d spin around in the office chair and think to myself, “I hope one day when I grow up, I’ll have a job where I can sit in a chair like this.”
After I was hired as a legal assistant in Houston, that dream came true. After years of working at Pizza Hut and slowly paying my way through community college, I finally got to sit in that office chair. Even better, by working for an immigration lawyer, I got to help people fleeing desperate circumstances, like gang violence, as they rebuilt their lives here in America.
But my future is now uncertain because the Trump administration has decided to take away the status that allows my family and me to stay in the United States and work.
Many people have heard of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was designed for undocumented young people who were brought to this country as children. My situation is different. I’ve been a legal U.S. resident for 18 years — since I was eight years old — after a 2001 earthquake in El Salvador compelled the U.S. government to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Salvadorans. TPS is an immigration designation given to more than 318,000 people from countries deemed unsafe due to war or natural disaster. Yet last year, the Trump administration announced it was seeking to end our status, leaving us vulnerable to deportation as early as next January.
It puts everything I’ve worked for at risk—and could even result in my deportation. So I am relieved the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote in June on the Dream Act and American Promise Act, which would protect young immigrants and offer us a pathway to citizenship.
Returning to El Salvador would be unthinkable. My mother, sister and I would have to leave behind my 16- and 18-year-old brothers and my sister’s 4-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter. They’re all U.S. citizens, and we wouldn’t jeopardize their lives by bringing them to a place plagued by gang violence. Even the U.S. State Department advises travelers not to go to the country.
I saw this danger firsthand when I visited my grandmother two years ago. At first, the trip was great; the country is beautiful, and the lifestyle is very relaxed. Then we went to get sandwiches at a small restaurant. I noticed a man staring at me, and he kept coming closer. I mentioned this to my family, and they immediately said, “We have to leave — now.” They understood that gang members can commit violent acts without punishment, and they know to exit a situation at the slightest hint of trouble.
Allowing TPS holders to stay in the United States is not only humane; it also makes economic sense. There are 28,000 TPS holders in Houston, and each year we earn more than $600 million and pay more than $110 million in local, state and federal taxes, according to New American Economy (NAE). Nationally, TPS holders earned $7.3 billion in 2017 and paid a total of $1.5 billion in taxes.
My dream is to attend a four-year college and study criminal justice and psychology. I want to learn how to work with at-risk populations and create a healthier and safer society. But with my future so uncertain, I’m wary about spending time and money pursuing a degree. If the Dream and Promise Act becomes law, I’ll be able to move forward without hesitation.
It’s not just about sitting in that office chair. I want to stay here in Houston, in the house I recently purchased, and continue putting down roots. I want to keep building my career and contributing to this country, the only place I’ve ever called home.
Rodriguez is a 2018 graduate of Lonestar Community College.