TAMPA — Jorge and Delmy Garcia have lived more than three decades in the United States.
Their three children were born and raised here and they have always supported themselves, working outside their home straight through the coronavirus pandemic.
They came illegally from Honduras in 1989, but after a decade living in the shadows, they gained Temporary Protected Status — a federal designation for immigrants who seek to escape the ravages of war or natural disaster in a dozen countries across Latin America, Africa and the Caribbean.
The Garcias have always hoped to turn that status permanent someday, with a green card and eventually citizenship.
But those hopes were dashed earlier this month when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the estimated 411,000 people who enjoy temporary status are ineligible to take those next steps.
“It is very sad news, very emotional for all of us who have TPS,” said Jorge Garcia, 53, a carpenter. “We work, we are part of our community, we have played a role in the development of this country.”
Delmy Garcia, 50, has taken on any job she can find — cleaning offices and restaurants, working in hotels and construction.
“Everything we’ve achieved has been through our own efforts,” she said. “No one has given us anything.”
They’re not sure what’s next for them.
Temporary Protected Status lasts 18 months and is often renewed automatically. Among those it protects from deportation are some 250,000 people from El Salvador, 80,000 from Honduras and 4,500 from Nicaragua.
But there’s no appeal beyond the Supreme Court. The justices ruled unanimously June 7 that temporary protection holders have no special path toward permanent residency. They can achieve it only through the process afforded to all applicants — and only if they entered the United States legally.
This leaves the Garcias and many like them to pin their hopes on the kind of comprehensive immigration reform that has eluded Congress for decades.
“For us, work is everything, that’s why we don’t ask for much,” Jorge said. “Just the hope and peace of mind that one day we may have the opportunity to have a green card.”
It’s a hope that fueled them as they raised their children, all U.S. citizens by birth — Jorge, 21; Enzo, 17; and Luis, 12.
They say they can’t return to Honduras because they have no life there and no prospects for starting a new one.
“In Honduras, there are no jobs, the economy is bad and there is no security,” Jorge said.
Groups advocating for a more restrictive immigration policy welcomed the Supreme Court ruling, saying that immigrants are abusing the Temporary Protection Status.
The designation was never intended to serve “as an avenue for the resettlement of illegal aliens,” said Spencer Raley, a research associate with the Federation for American Immigration Reform in Washington D.C.
“The Supreme Court also noted that TPS is simply a temporary deferral of deportation, and does not in any way constitute a lawful means of residency in the United States,” Raley said.
Immigrant advocates decried the court’s decision as a blow to one of the few hopes for citizenship available to many immigrant families.
“TPS holders deserve the possibility of becoming residents; they have earned their place in our society,” said Lisette Sanchez, an immigration lawyer in Tampa.
They fled extraordinary problems in their home countries, said Juan Flores, president of the Florida Honduran community group Fundación 15 de Septiembre. The state is home to some 43,000 people with Temporary Protected Status, the largest share of whom fled a series of natural disasters in Haiti.
“Granting TPS holders permanent status is the right way to go,” Flores said. “No doubt about it.”
The designation has been a political football as the presidency has shifted from Democrat Barack Obama to Republican Donald J. Trump to Democrat Joe Biden.
Trump sought to end Temporary Protected Status as part of his policy of curbing immigration overall. Legal challenges blocked Trump, but in September, a federal appeals court sided with him and upheld his order to end the designation in early 2021. By then, Biden had been sworn in and the designation continues.
Last month, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed a bill that would create a path to citizenship for an estimated 4 million undocumented immigrants, including holders of Temporary Protected Status. A related Biden initiative, the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, would allow people in the country illegally before Jan. 1 to apply for green cards and enter an eight-year path to citizenship.
Meantime, Vice President Kamala Harris just returned from a mission in Central America to address the social and economic problems that drive people to flee the region. Harris announced commitments from a dozen companies and organizations to invest in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Marlon Cruz, 55, also entered the country illegally from Honduras and has had Temporary Protected Status since 1999.
But Cruz, who lives in Miami, qualifies to apply for a green card because he risked taking a trip back to his home country — a requirement for any applicant who entered the United States illegally.
He made the trip to Honduras in 2018 and stayed two weeks under a special permit from immigration authorities known as “advance parole.” Upon his return to the U.S., he was “legally admitted.”
Cruz has an adult son who is a citizen and will file as his green card sponsor.
The Garcias, too, have an adult son who is a citizen. But they’re reluctant to make the trip back to Honduras after more than 30 years away for fear they will not be allowed back into the U.S.
Said Cruz, “It was not an easy decision because you don’t really know what can happen when you return. There is no guarantee that they will let you in.”
He sympathizes with families like the Garcias.
“It’s as if they were throwing you out without a parachute, with nothing to cushion the fall.”