Twenty-six years after moving to the United States, Jose became a lawful permanent resident—one step from U.S. citizenship. This outcome was not always certain, and his experience shows how unintentional mistakes in a complicated immigration system, like a delay in filing a change of address, can throw a person’s path to security off track.
Jose moved to the United States from El Salvador when he was 17 years old, fleeing an ongoing civil war. In 1992, the year Jose entered the United States, he moved to Miami and applied for asylum.
Jose hoped he had a strong claim since he was fleeing a war. He presented his asylum case at his asylum interview. Unfortunately, the asylum office referred his case to the immigration court. Around the same time, Jose’s father, who was a naturalized citizen living in New York, petitioned for him and asked him to move to New York.
With his father’s petition, Jose thought he was eligible for lawful permanent residence. But, in 1995 he received an in absentia deportation order.
“The problem was that I went to the first [asylum] interview, but I was asked to appear before the court and I didn’t go because nobody told me,” Jose says. “I moved with my father [to New York] and he forgot to change the address, and [after I did not receive notice of my hearing], it was from missing that court date that I had a deportation order. So I was afraid.”
“El problema es que yo sí fui a la primera entrevista pero no fui para la corte la segunda vez. No me presenté porque nadie me dejo saber. Yo me mude y mi papa se olvidó a cambiar la dirección. Y de ahi me pusieron una orden de deportación. Entonces yo tuve miedo."
Meanwhile, the petition his father filed was approved, but because he had an order of deportation, Jose couldn’t continue with his lawful permanent resident application.
Jose found some relief in 2001 when the United States designated Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Salvadorans. TPS was established by Congress to protect foreign nationals in the United States from being returned to their home countries which were unsafe. In January 2001, El Salvador suffered a massive earthquake, from which the country is still rebuilding today. Jose learned from a friend that he may be eligible for a work permit and could obtain a social security number under TPS.
While TPS gave Jose a reprieve from deportation, if he traveled abroad he would not be permitted back into the United States.
“The deportation order affected me a lot because many of my family members who lived in my country were dying and I couldn’t travel. The most painful was my grandmother when she got sick.
“Her mind was always sharp, and she would always say that she is going to die without me seeing her one last time, and that’s what happened. She died three years ago, and it really affected me emotionally to the point that I became a little sick.”
“Me afectó mucho porque el problema era que muchos familiares en mi país se murieron y no los podía ver. El más doloroso fue mi abuela cuando estuvo enferma.
“Ella nunca perdió la mente, siempre decía que se iba morir y no la iba ver, y paso eso. Ella se murió hace tres años y me afecto bastante emocionalmente. Porque cuando ella se enfermó, me afecto un poquito los nervios.”
After Jose was granted TPS, he was able to obtain a work permit and root himself in the United States. He got married, had two U.S. citizen children, bought a house, paid taxes, and continued to seek a permanent solution to his immigration status.
He met with lawyers but always received the same answer: No. Nobody Jose worked with could reopen his deportation order. One lawyer tried two separate motions; both were denied. Jose needed a lawyer to try again, navigating around the prior denials and persuading a judge to reopen his complex case.
In January 2018, the Trump administration announced it would terminate TPS for Salvadorans, even though the country is still not safe (a federal court order has delayed that termination, so the protection remains available). This announcement put a lot of pressure on Jose.
“I was very nervous and I wanted to sell my house because supposedly Trump ended my only protection,” Jose says. “Many people I know were in a similar situation, they lived here for over 20 years and already bought houses; they were talking about selling their houses. I had the same idea. But, I didn’t want to move back because my children have their lives here. For their sake, I didn’t want to go back to El Salvador.”
“Estaba bien nervioso y yo quería vender mi casa porque supuestamente ya Trump lo termino. Y la mayoría de la gente que conocía ya compraron sus casas después de vivir 20 años en los Estados Unidos, y estaban hablando de vender sus casas. Yo tenia la misma idea de vender mi casa.
“Yo no quería ir a mi país por mis hijos porque ellos tienen su vida aca. Por ellos si no quería ir al Salvador.”
He felt he had to figure out how to find a pathway to citizenship quickly. It was during this time crunch that a coworker recommended Jose come to NIJC. The organization accepted Jose’s case and set out to persuade an immigration judge in Miami to reopen his deportation proceedings.
“Everything happened very quickly, the lawyer presented my case,” Jose says. “She asked the judge to consider that I had lived here for so many years already, and that my father was a citizen and that I was really hoping for something more permanent because all I had was TPS. And then what? Because TPS is only a temporary program.”
“Nos fue todo muy rápido fue así y después la abogada ahí dio mi caso. La abogada pidió a la jueza que llevo tantos años aquí y que mi papá era ciudadano y que yo quería mis papeles porque yo lo único que tenía era el TPS. Y entonces qué? Porque es un programa temporal.”
The Miami judge reopened Jose’s deportation proceedings. NIJC then helped to move the case closer to home to the Chicago Immigration Court, and a second judge granted him lawful permanent resident status in October 2018.
“It was one of the happiest days of my life,” Jose recalls. “Now I can work a better job. I always wanted to be a truck driver. Today I am studying for my trucking license. Having a better job will allow me to pay for my children’s education instead of taking out loans. My daughter, she wants to be a lawyer or doctor and school is very expensive. I want to give her the chance for that future.”
“Fue el día más alegre de mi vida. Ya uno puede trabajar y conseguir un buen trabajo. Yo siempre quería trabajar a manejar tráiler. Hoy yo estuve estudiando para mi licencia para guiar los trucks. Siempre buscaba un mejor trabajo y no podía. Quería un mejor trabajo para que mis hijos no sacen prestamos. Mi hija hoy quiere ser abogado o quiere ser doctora y para eso es muy caro. Y le quiero dar la oportunidad para obtener el futuro que ella quiere.”
Jose also has gained one more privilege: he can now travel outside of the country. At the beginning of 2019, Jose took an “emotional trip” to see his mother, whom he had not seen since 1996.