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‘I feel this is my home’: Hundreds protest in Washington to support immigrants with temporary protected status

Hundreds of immigrants with temporary protected status and supporters rallied against the Trump administration’s immigration policies Feb. 12. (Video: Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post)

Hundreds of immigrants and their families representing more than a dozen countries and several states gathered Tuesday in Washington to demand that permanent residency be made available to thousands of immigrants who came to the United States fleeing war and disaster.

They danced to the beat of drums and the thrum of vuvuzelas, the airy notes of a conch shell and the shake of maracas, hoisting flags and signs into the air as they chanted in English, Spanish, French, Haitian Creole and Nepali.

Through the cold and rain, they sang and marched down Pennsylvania Avenue.

“What do we want?” they called. “Residency!” “When do we want it?” “Now!”

The protest, which began in front of the White House, was part of events organized this week to draw lawmakers’ attention to the plight of immigrants granted temporary protected status. Organizers said they wanted Republican and Democratic lawmakers to meet families that remain in limbo as courts review the Trump administration’s efforts to curtail the program.

“I came to this country as an immigrant,” said José Alemán, a Spanish teacher from Massachusetts who was born in El Salvador and has legally lived in the United States since 1996. “Now, I am so much more than that. I am a public school teacher. I am a father, a husband. . . . We cannot live our lives hoping that in 18 months we will be allowed to stay in our homes, with our children, working at our jobs.”

They were joined by allies and lawmakers, including freshmen Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), who told those in the crowd they support their efforts to stay in the country where they have built their lives — some for decades.

“We are a nation that turns peril into promise,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “We are a nation that builds from many, and we have to protect our basic character as a nation to be that. That is what this is all about. We are here to make sure that all TPS recipients become permanent members of the United States of America.”

On Monday night, legislators struck a bipartisan agreement aimed at avoiding another government shutdown by allocating $1.375 billion for 55 miles of new fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border — a fraction of the $5.7 billion Trump had sought for more than 200 miles of wall. The deal didn’t mention TPS holders or immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children, known as “dreamers.”

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But organizers said they didn’t want to see a TPS solution folded into a compromise bill focused on the southern border. Instead, they wanted separate legislation that allows TPS holders from all 10 countries in the program to apply for permanent residency.

“I know that people are uncomfortable, but the pursuit of justice is never easy,” Pressley said. “Temporary protected status is a falsehood. What is temporary about people who have been contributing to this country for decades?”

Protesters first marched to Trump International Hotel, where children held up a tarp painted like a brick wall. They held signs bearing a monarch butterfly — a symbol of immigrant rights.

Among the throng was Marilyn Miranda, 9, the child of immigrants from Honduras and El Salvador. Both of her parents are TPS recipients.

“I’m here for the 2 million kids who are like me, who have to help their parents get permanent residency so we can stay together and be a normal family,” Marilyn said, holding a sign with big, colorful butterflies and hand-drawn faces with tears rolling down their cheeks. “I have dreams, and I need my parents here to help me with those dreams.”

Marchers stopped for a second rally in the mud of a park outside the Russell Senate Office Building. Several speakers took to megaphones to share their stories. Some Senate staff members hung makeshift messages of support in their office windows: “We’re with you,” one read.

“It is not safe to go back to Sudan,” said Mona Elhag, a TPS holder who came to Washington from Maine and has lived in the United States since 2012. “I feel this is my home now, my children’s home, and I am here because home is always worth fighting for.”

As the rally ended Tuesday afternoon, several demonstrators said they planned to meet with and lobby lawmakers. Others had spent Monday doing the same.

TPS recipients are a special classification of immigrants who come from countries embroiled in conflict or devastated by natural disasters. The program was created to allow citizens of those countries to live and work legally in the United States until the situation in their home countries stabilizes.

As the Trump administration has sought to tighten immigration and asylum laws, the president ended TPS designation for six of 10 countries in the program: El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua and Sudan. Of the more than 300,000 people enrolled in the TPS program, a majority hail from those countries.

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Two days before protesters gathered in Washington, several immigrants from Honduras and Nepal sued the Trump administration, alleging its decision to end the TPS program for six countrieswas driven by racism. The lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Francisco, is the latest in a series of court battles that seek to challenge the administration’s decision.

Protest organizers said TPS holders from nearly every country in the program attended Tuesday. Hundreds traveled from out of state, including nearly 400 from Massachusetts and others who came from as far as California, Florida and Minnesota.

TPS Alliance, an organization that advocates for TPS holders, heralded this week as the “biggest mobilization” of TPS holders in history.

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