SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The Trump administration extended temporary protected status this week for people from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, Sudan, Honduras and Nepal. The White House has been trying to end TPS for people from these six countries since last year. But federal courts have stepped in for now. TPS allows people who were fleeing war or natural disasters to live in the U.S. without fear of deportation. Of the 318,000 TPS holders, 200,000 are from El Salvador. Their work permits have been extended for another year through January of 2021. Karla Alvarado is one of them. She lives in Pennsylvania where she works as a nursing director. Thanks so much for being with us.
KARLA ALVARADO: No problem.
SIMON: You came to the U.S., I gather, in 1997. What do you remember of that moment?
ALVARADO: Well, I just remember not knowing the language. It was very different from my country. Running water was very exciting. Fresh milk - I remember not liking that taste of fresh milk because we did not have the luxury in El Salvador to get fresh milk. So there was a lot to get used to.
SIMON: How did you get into the United States? You remember that?
ALVARADO: Yes. We actually did come through the border of Mexico. We came illegally.
SIMON: So in 2001, the U.S. started offering TPS to Salvadorans after a massive earthquake struck the country. How did that change your life?
ALVARADO: Well, I was, I believe, about 13 years old when when TPS was granted to us. I just knew that it was going to allow my mother to work legally. And it came with a couple more benefits of, you know, having a Social Security card. So it didn't really grasp it until I was maybe in high school and ready to go to college.
SIMON: So you went to college. You got an education. And now you're a nursing director.
ALVARADO: Correct. Yes.
SIMON: Are you concerned now?
ALVARADO: Yes. I actually been concerned since the Trump administration came into the presidency, obviously. It's been very, very concerning when they first said they were not going to extend it last year. And then they said it was going to be extended to January. And I've been literally Google typing in and searching every week. Like, did they extend it? Did something come through? So it's been very, very stressful just to think that the life that I known - it's been here in the U.S. and that that could be taken away - was very scary.
SIMON: Could you become a citizen?
ALVARADO: I'm in the process of doing that. My husband is an American citizen. So we're just waiting now.
SIMON: Do you ever go to El Salvador?
ALVARADO: No. I have not been back since I was 9 years old.
SIMON: I wonder, Karla Alvarado, what you might say to somebody listening to this interview who would be very moved by your story but say, look. It's it's temporary protected status. And this was granted in 2001 to Salvadorans. And that's been 19 years. That doesn't sound so temporary. That's a generation.
ALVARADO: Correct. So I understand it was temporary for us. But it kept getting renewed. So it gave us hope. And we came here for a new life. My mother came here fleeing abuse from my father. People don't leave their native countries just because, hey, I want to go look somewhere else. It's usually a reason behind it.
SIMON: Do you - I'm afraid I've got to ask you, well, an unpleasant question. But I'll bet you've run it through your mind. What would you do if TPS did end for you?
ALVARADO: Honestly, I'm not quite sure. We have so many thoughts and plans that we we tried to think about and talk about with my husband and my family. We certainly would like to stay here as long as possible with my husband filing for my green card and stuff like that - takes a long time. And I'm used to the amenities of America. I'm used to being able to be free and do what I want. And if I want to walk my dogs 11 at night, I'm allowed to do that. I can do that. And I feel safe. So I guess I would be looking at other places where I could feel safe as well. And El Salvador is just not one of them yet for me, so...
SIMON: It sounds like it's a hard thing for you to think about.
ALVARADO: It is because I've only known the United States growing up. If people ask me, like, I am from El Salvador. But I'm very Americanized. I celebrate Fourth of July. And my favorite food is barbecue. So it's definitely - I am so Americanized to the core that I just don't see any other better country than the U.S. We have our freedom. We - I just feel like people take that for granted a lot. And they don't realize how good we have it here in the U.S. compared to other places.
SIMON: Karla Alvarado is a Salvadoran TPS holder, is a nursing director in Pennsylvania. Thank you so much for being with us.
ALVARADO: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SOLANGE SONG, "GOD GIVEN NAME")
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