The proudest day of my life was when I was accepted to Stony Brook University — the school of my dreams. I didn’t open the letter right away, weighing the envelope in my hands. When I finally tore it open, I felt relief and exhilaration. I was one step closer to my dream of becoming a high school English teacher.
My mom was the first person I told and the first person to congratulate me. We celebrated over lasagna she had made just for the occasion. It was a huge deal for us; I’m the first one in our family to go to college.
But my dreams are in jeopardy now. On Monday, the Trump administration announced it was ending Temporary Protected Status for Salvadorans. T.P.S. is the program that has allowed my parents to live and work in this country with legal authorization for decades. The security once felt by my family — and about 200,000 other Salvadorans like us — has suddenly been ripped from under our feet.
My acceptance and enrollment into college is as much a reflection of my parents’ hard work as it is my own. As two immigrants who fled El Salvador, they’ve always put me and my two sisters first. They’ve worked factory jobs for years, and when I was young they held several jobs at the same time. They coordinated their schedules to make sure that at least one of them was always home with us kids. All they wanted was a good education and a brighter future for their children.
When I got into Stony Brook, I finally felt that I had something tangible to show my parents that justified their hard work and sacrifices. Now I’m a senior preparing to graduate in the fall, and I want nothing more than to have them at my graduation ceremony.
I’m a United States citizen, as are my sisters. I first realized that my immigrant parents, who are not citizens, could be under attack during President Trump’s candidacy. Before that, I’d taken for granted that my parents would remain protected. After all, their family is here. Their jobs are here. Their friends are here.
But then I saw Mr. Trump using the campaign to scapegoat all kinds of immigrants and refugees, and I realized that they might come after us, too. After the first presidential debate, my mom asked me if it was true that Mr. Trump could really take away T.P.S., and I didn’t know how to respond. I was paralyzed by the prospect of telling them that we could lose this protection, and that our lives could be thrown into disarray and that we may be split apart.
Now with T.P.S. ending, our family has to think seriously about what will happen if my parents are sent back to El Salvador. My No. 1 concern is my parents’ survival. We know how difficult the situation is in El Salvador, considered among the most violent countries in the world. We have family members who have been threatened, and that fear kept my parents from trying to visit their native land for years. What’s more, my parents may be too old to find decent jobs there.
I fear for my younger sisters. At 18 and 20, they still need my parents. After the news this week, one of my sisters offered to take a semester off to work and raise money for our family, knowing that we may need savings to get through this difficult time, especially if my parents are forced to relocate. My mother responded with the same poise and determination she’s shown since arriving in this country. “No, mi hija, you have to keep studying. It’s your future that matters most,” she said. When I was growing up they showed me what it means to be part of a family, part of a community. My sisters need that, too.
I feel the weight of responsibility for my parents’ sacrifices. I know that it’s my turn to stand up and speak up for them. The Trump administration is creating another crisis for immigrant communities, and young American citizens like me have no choice but to tell our stories, call our legislators and demand that our families’ hard work and contributions to this country be acknowledged and rewarded. We, and T.P.S. holders from across Central America, Haiti, Liberia and various other countries, deserve to continue living here without fear of being separated.
Our future should not be at the whims of any particular administration eager to use us as political pawns. T.P.S. holders like my parents are deeply integrated into the fabric of our communities. Congress has to step up and provide a solution that would provide a permanent status for hundreds of thousands of T.P.S. holders like my mom and dad. Our families are as American as any other family. It’s time we be treated that way.
Rodman Serrano is a member of Make the Road New York, the largest grass-roots community organization in New York offering services and organizing the immigrant community.