Honor MLK Jr. — Speak Out

Never have I felt so alone and afraid as when the border patrol in El Salvador pulled me off the bus as I headed to American-friendly Guatemala because I had not stayed the three consecutive nights the Salvadoran regime required of tourists to that country torn by civil war in the early 1980s.

I watched the bus pull away without me, toward a country I felt safe in. Then I turned around and trudged back across the bridge to El Salvador, under the watchful eye of teenage boys with machine guns, wondering what the next 24 hours would hold.

That’s the closest I can come to imagining what the 5,900 Salvadorans living in North Carolina under Temporary Protective Status for the past 17 years must feel like now that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has revoked TPS for refugees from El Salvador, effective Sept. 9, 2019.

On the blustery Saturday afternoon of Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, El Centro Hispano held a press conference outside the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Durham to protest the Trump administration’s cruel and capricious decision.

Just to be clear: Salvadorans granted TPS are documented and living in the U.S. legally and paying taxes to Uncle Sam. In 2000, the federal government considered conditions in El Salvador so perilous that it authorized Salvadoran refugees to live and work in the U.S., provided that they check in with the feds every 18 months to make sure they had not been convicted of any crimes.

Then last week, the Trump administration declared El Salvador safe again — but only for Salvadorans. The U.S. Department of State still maintains a Level 3 Travel Advisory for U.S. citizens to “Reconsider Travel” to El Salvador because, according to the State Department website: “Violent crime, such as murder, assault, rape and armed robbery, is common. Gang activity, such as extortion, violent street crime, and narcotics and arms trafficking, is widespread. Local police may lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents.”

In November, Chapel Hill, along with Carrboro and Durham, passed a resolution of support for Salvadorans granted TPS to be able to remain in the U.S. We are reportedly the only three municipalities in the state to have done so.

But what does that mean? We can’t override Trump’s decision. We can, however, speak out against injustice and for compassion. We can call out elected leaders who don’t govern with the best interests of humanity at heart. We can keep the issue alive while Congress works out a way for the Salvadorans who have enriched our society to remain contributing members of our community.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s passionate pursuit of a just society, his courage in standing up to powerful forces, his tenacious speaking out inspire us all.

What can we do about the TPS revocation and any myriad of wrongs that need to be righted? We can, as King told us and showed us, speak out.

What will you do today to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.?
— Nancy Oates

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