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Salvadorans Seek A Golden Ticket To U.S. Residency

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Jose Noboa plays on the computer with one of his sons.
Kate Sheehy
Jose Noboa plays on the computer with one of his sons.

For the large number of Salvadorans living in the D.C. region with Temporary Protected Status, life is just that -- temporary. Temporarily allowed to work legally, temporarily protected from deportation. Yet, after a decade or more away from home, they struggle with their estranged relationship to El Salvador and their desire for permanency in the U.S.

Many immigrants with this status hope one day to attain a rare and nearly unachievable goal: permanent residency in the United States.

Husband and wife Rosa Amaya and José Noboa live in a modest brick house in a quiet neighborhood in Hyattsville, Md. They have five sons, four of who were born in the U.S. during the 15 years they have been here. Their youngest was born just a month ago.

Since 2001, they have been working under Temporary Protected Status, or TPS. Rosa says before they were granted TPS, she was always nervous.

"The four years without TPS, I was afraid to go to work," she says. "I was afraid immigration would come. You live with anxiety, you are never relaxed, you fear everyone."

With TPS, Rosa says she feels more comfortable, at least for now. Work authorization under TPS is only valid for 18 months at a time. She says she'd like to stay in this country.

A new place to call home

Rosa visited El Salvador for the first time last May since coming to the U.S. She says she was happy to see her family, but it no longer felt like home.

"When you come here as a young person, you hope to see your country the way you left it, with the same happiness, but now you don't feel the same," Rosa says.

Her husband José has not been back since he left.

"For me, I am Salvadoran, but I like it better here," he says. "My sons were born here. They are in school here. Yes, this is my country."

They are hoping José's boss will be their sponsor to apply for residency. José's been working as a truck driver with the same company for 9 years.

"My boss says if there's the opportunity, he would love to help us," he says.

This is a relationship many Salvadorans with TPS hope to develop with an employer.

The challenges of sponsoring an employee

Cece Tueros is the Human Resources Manager at Cavalier Maintenance Services in Fairfax. The company staffs cleaning crews at buildings around Maryland, D.C. and Virginia. She says about 35 percent of her employees are Salvadoran under TPS. Tueros says they have sponsored employees for residency in the past.

"If we have a good employee that has been with the company for a long time, and we can help or assist, we would like to give that person the opportunity to become a resident alien or change their status, and become a citizen," Tueros says.

She says new immigration laws enacted in the past two years have made this more costly for companies. The employer is now responsible for the total cost of sponsoring an employee.

Andrea Rodriguez, director of legal services at the Central American Resource Center, or Carecen, in Northwest D.C., says right now her organization is helping Salvadorans complete their TPS applications for 2012.

She says TPS provides immediate relief for job security, but over time people find themselves in a difficult position.

"There's this level of instability in not being able to know that if at the end of the 18 months, you are able to stay in the United States or you have to leave," Rodriguez says.

And then there's the stress of knowing loved ones, thousands of miles away, are relying on you to survive.

"They're a bridge between the U.S. and their home country, but it's a huge burden to be that bridge and be on TPS," she says.

For some, family separation is not an option

Back in Hyattsville, Rosa and José visit with friends who have come to see their new baby boy. She's worried her application for TPS may be rejected this year.

She considers what she would do if she and her husband were not granted TPS again.

"If they send us away, deport us, what would I do? Well if I see that my sons are safer here, I would hide," she says. "I would go to another state where they couldn't find me."

Rosa says it makes her sad to see news stories about children who are left behind when their parents are deported. She says she won't let that happen to her family.

[Music: "Europa" by Marito Rivera from Grandes Exitos]

Photos: Salvadorans and U.S. Citizenship

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