DENVER -- Nearly 2,000 Salvadorans who are living in Colorado under protected status may now face deportation, after the Department of Homeland Security decided to end the protection.
The protected status was granted in 2001 following a series of devastating earthquakes.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen determined that the original conditions (disruption of living conditions) caused by the 2001 earthquake no longer exist.
DHS said it conducted extensive outreach to Salvadoran communities throughout the country and had meetings with Salvadoran government officials.
According to a news release posted on the Department's website, "the effective date of the termination of TPS for El Salvador will be delayed 18 months to provide time for individuals with TPS to arrange for their departure, or to seek an alternative lawful immigration status in the United States, if eligible."
"We're afraid," said Jorge Velasquez, a Salvadoran who has been living in Colorado with protected status for 17 years. "My community is afraid of what's next."
Through an interpreter, Velasquez told Denver7 that he's been able to live a free and independent life that he didn't enjoy in El Salvador.
He said the situation there is terrible, not because of the earthquakes, but because of "delinquency," having to do with gangs.
"If you don't join, or if you're working and you don't pay 'rent' to the Mafia, they kill you," he said.
Velasquez has been working at Peak Kia since 2001.
In a letter to U.S. Senator Cory Gardner, the owner, Bill Byerly, described Velasquez as a man with a "strong work ethic, sense of responsibility and trustworthiness."
He said Velasquez "facilitates communication and integration between the sales, parts and service departments and has key functions in each."
Byerly asked Gardner to consider a bill, the SECURE Act S 2144, that would recognize the contributions of people like Velasquez, by allowing them to the apply for residency and eventual citizenship.
He said, other than himself, there was no one on the staff who has Velasquez' knowledge of the dealership, the staff and processes across departments and added that the Salvadoran "helps the company reach larger markets, translating for Spanish speaking customers and making them feel welcome at the dealership."
Wife in Sanctuary
Velasquez told Denver7 that he's "disappointed and angry" because there are now two people in his family being targeted by the Trump Administration.
His wife Araceli, who fled for her life from El Salvador, came to the U.S. in 2010. She was ordered deported and is now in sanctuary, with the couple's three sons, at Park Hill United Methodist Church/Temple Micah.
Velasquez said he picks the boys up to take them to school, and then drops them back off at the church.
"It's in Congress' hands," he said. "Congress has the opportunity to pass a bill that would allow us to get on a path toward permanent status."
Rep. Mike Coffman tweeted this morning that "DHS can't possibly expect nearly 200k individuals to 'self deport' by Sep. (2019.) This is yet another example of our broken immigration system and why Congress must act soon to fix it."
Senator Michael Bennet tweeted: “For nearly 20 years, 200,000 Salvadorans in the United States – including 2,200 in Colorado – have worked, paid taxes & supported our communities through TPS. Sending them back to a country still facing high levels of poverty and violence is wrong and potentially destabilizing.”
"It really breaks my heart," said Jennifer Piper, of the American Friends Service Committee. "One of (Jorge Velasquez’) kids is the same age as my son and they're really close friends."
Piper said many of the Salvadorans in Colorado are close to people here.
"They're part of our community," she said. "When we rip them out, that has impacts, not just on them, but on us as well."
Piper said the AFSC is hosting a forum from 6 to 8 p.m. on January 27 at the Park Hill United Methodist Church/Temple Micah to educate and issue a call for action for people who have had Temporary Protected Status.
"We want to help people learn their rights," she said, "and learn what opportunities are available to help push Congress to fix the system and make it work."