‘It’s a Heartbreaking Decision.’ Immigration Change Leaves Charlotte Families Worried.

Ulises Martinez will graduate from UNC Charlotte with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and sociology in May.

He’s busy job-hunting, eager to start his career after working his way through school. He wakes up early to keep up with classes and his two part-time jobs, one at a paint store and one at the Latin American Coalition, a Charlotte immigrant rights organization.

But on Monday, Martinez got a text from a friend about news that could change all of that.

Martinez and his mother arrived in the United States from El Salvador when Martinez was just six months old. They’ve lived here legally with Temporary Protected Status, which the U.S. government grants to people from countries where it would be unsafe to return. About 200,000 Salvadorans living in the U.S. have had TPS since a series of earthquakes hit their country in 2001.

The Department of Homeland Security announced Monday that TPS will end for Salvadorans on Sept. 9, 2019. The department’s announcement said El Salvador has gotten significant international aid to help with earthquake recovery, and the end date is eighteen months away to provide for a smooth transition.

“The substantial disruption of living conditions caused by the earthquake no longer exist,” the announcement said.

But advocates have pointed to the U.S. State Department’s travel advisory for El Salvador, which urges people to reconsider travel to the country because of crime. The advisory says violent crime including murder and rape is common, gang activity is widespread and local police might not be able to help victims effectively.

For Martinez, moving to El Salvador would mean starting over in a country he does not remember at all. In Charlotte, he said, he’s created a life – a degree, a path to a career. His mom has worked as a cashier for years, Martinez said, supporting the family while he stayed home with his grandparents. He said she never took a day off.

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