Claudia Rojas has a poet’s frame. She is thin, and looks like she could easily be younger than 23. But her voice is not delicate, and when she begins to recite a poem into the microphone in her hand, even the toddlers climbing noisily up and down in their folding chairs fall quiet.
“Protected,” she begins.
“Today the protesters will go on strike, pray and fast
Their leaders said we must take risks
This is how to get noticed,
how to make noise. This is how we get saved.
But we are too old;
we were too old and too young to flee
countries, to outlive
earthquakes, hurricanes, rape, murder
Later in the year, they will pack Thanksgiving turkeys.
They will clean the office
after the holiday party. Each time, grow old.
Today the protesters speak into cameras,
try to answer the reporters’ questions
with numbers, with stories, with English
picked up through the uncertain years.
And the reporters ask, why are you worthy of notice?
Nearly 50 people listened to her last winter in the Tenants and Workers United office in Alexandria at an event she planned called “An Evening of Hope for the TPS Community.” This was the first such event she had ever organized, and it was very important to her that it would succeed.
Rojas is from El Salvador and holds Temporary Protected Status, a designation the U.S. grants to immigrants from certain countries with conditions that prevent people from returning, like an armed civil conflict or an environmental disaster. TPS holders, who must be already present in the U.S. at the time the designation is granted, can work and study here while remaining safe from deportation, but they lack a path to residency or citizenship. The program began with the Immigration Act of 1990. El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen are all TPS countries. More than 300,000 TPS holders currently live in the United States.
By Cassidy Jensen for WASHINGTON CITY PAPER
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