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  1. Florida Politics

Immigration restrictions piling worry on three generations of Tampa family

Wendy and Jennifer Henriquez, left to right, are two sisters of Salvadoran heritage with different legal status. Wendy was born in El Salvador and hopes to remain in Tampa under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Jennifer was born in the United States and is a citizen. [JUAN CARLOS CHAVEZ   |   CENTRO]
Wendy and Jennifer Henriquez, left to right, are two sisters of Salvadoran heritage with different legal status. Wendy was born in El Salvador and hopes to remain in Tampa under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Jennifer was born in the United States and is a citizen. [JUAN CARLOS CHAVEZ | CENTRO]
Published Feb. 5, 2018

TAMPA — Each development out of Washington in the divisive debate over U.S. immigration policy is piling up worry for three generations of the Henriquez family in Tampa.

It hit home for them when President Donald Trump canceled protections for people who left their countries because of natural disasters, when Trump scorned additional immigration from "s---hole countries," when he targeted "chain migration" for relatives of legal immigrants and when Congress pulled young immigrant "Dreamers" into its government shutdown votes.

Wendy Henriquez, 26, came to the United State from El Salvador at age 11 and has avoided deportation through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, created in August 2012 by President Barack Obama to implement provisions of the proposed DREAM Act long under consideration in Congress.

She has a 2-year-old daughter, born in the United States.

Her parents, Juan and Claudia Henriquez, have avoided deportation through the Temporary Protected Status afforded to thousands of people from El Salvador because of damage the country suffered during earthquakes in 2001. The program was renewed several times until the Trump administration announced it will end.

Wendy's 18-year-old sister, Jennifer, was born in the United States and as a citizen might have sought permanent legal status for her parents under a provision of immigration law that Trump now aims to eliminate, labeling it chain migration.

What's more, El Salvador is one of the countries Trump referred to in widely reported remarks from a recent Oval Office negotiating session, when he derided immigration from certain largely black and Hispanic nations in favor of mostly white Norway.

"You know, we are good people, and we came here with aspirations," said Wendy Henriquez, who hopes to work as an accountant and was the first in her family to graduate from high school. "Thank God, we have been moving forward — until now."

• • •

Henriquez said her family has paid taxes and contributed to the community, working together to operate a small storefront restaurant, El Manjar, in the corridor of Central and South American businesses along N Armenia Avenue in Tampa.

Sisters Wendy and Jennifer are in charge of the kitchen and customer service.

In addition, her father also works in construction and her mother is a nursing assistant at a hospital.

Her parents were farmworkers in El Salvador when they immigrated to the United States, first her father in 1993 then her mother in 1998. Wendy Henriquez stayed behind in El Salvador with her maternal grandmother and an older brother.

During that period, she learned from her grandmother how to cook, complete tasks at school, and above all, to treasure the sacrifice her parents had made.

Henriquez said it is unfair that politicians dismiss all these achievements.

"For my parents, it has been very difficult because they have been hard workers," Henriquez said. "All this has hurt me a lot too. We are trapped."

She came here illegally 15 years ago, with the help of a "coyote" or people smuggler.

"It's an experience that you never forget," she said. "I was lucky, I know, because nothing happened to me."

For years, the Henriquez family has held out hope for the kind of comprehensive immigration reform that might enable people living here illegally or on temporary status to come out of the shadows and find a path to citizenship.

Instead, they see sentiment in Washington shifting the other way, toward a reduction overall in the number of immigrants who will be accepted.

An advocacy group, the Washington-based American Immigration Council, said people like Wendy Henriquez and her family will have to rely on Congress if they want to change that.

"Who wins when we take away the legal status of hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom have lived here, paid taxes and registered with the government for almost 20 years?" said Royce Bernstein Murray, policy director for the council.

"Given that the Trump administration will not protect them, Congress must seize this moment to provide a legislative solution."

• • •

The DACA program has enabled Wendy Henriquez to work legally and enroll to study accounting at Hillsborough Community College. She graduated from King High School in Tampa.

She is among 800,000 people protected from deportation through the program — all of them immigrants who entered the country illegally before the age of 16.

Trump announced in September he would gradually eliminate DACA, saying Obama had overreached his authority in creating the program through executive order and turning the decision on whether to continue it back to Congress.

Congressional Democrats prolonged the federal government shutdown last month in hopes of getting a DACA measure passed, but they eventually relented, returning the issue to negotiations.

"I have never stopped being a woman of faith and I feel that God always does something in favor of his children, of his creation, when one needs it," Henriquez said. "I knew that there was hope when DACA arrived and I do not lose faith that it will be maintained in any way."

The DACA developments come on the heels of Trump's decision adding El Salvador to a list of nations losing Temporary Protected Status. Nearly 200,000 people from El Salvador are living in the United States under this designation.

Last year, federal authorities suspended similar protections for citizens of two other countries emerging from natural disasters — Haiti and Nicaragua.

The Henriquez family says it now is left with little more than the hope that people far away will make decisions enabling them stay.

"It is a terrible time for us because we are not bad people, we do not steal, we are not criminals," Henriquez said. "Our lives have not been easy but we are very proud of what we have achieved."

Editor's note: Immigrants from El Salvador, granted temporary protected status in 2001 because of a series of earthquakes there, will lose that status Sept. 9, 2019, under an announcement Jan. 8 by the Trump administration. A story Feb. 2 contained an incorrect description of the program.

Contact Juan Carlos Chavez at jchavez@tampabay.com. CENTRO Tampa is a sister publication of the Tampa Bay Times.

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