Originally published by The Washington Post’
YORK, Pa. — President Trump has ordered that Elena Aguilar must return to El Salvador next year. The 46-year-old, who owns a popular clothing boutique on West Market Street here, has lived in the United States for two decades. Since an earthquake devastated her homeland in 2001, she’s been allowed to stay because of a program called temporary protected status that’s been extended a dozen times. Despite rampant gang violence, the Trump administration argues the country is no longer so unsafe as to justify letting 200,000 Salvadorans stick around.
Aguilar and her two 20-something children, who she brought with her as a single mother, are not U.S. citizens. But her 6-year-old grandson Dylan, who she’s raised since he was an infant, earned citizenship because he was born here — something else the president hopes to put an end to soon via executive order. The first-grader, who loves to fish, is one of 192,700 American children born to Salvadoran TPS recipients.
“I can’t leave him here,” Aguilar said. “It’s going to be hard for him because he’s never been to my country. This is his country. He’s an American.”
Earlier this month, a federal judge in California issued a temporary injunction to block Trump from terminating the legal status of about 300,000 immigrants who have fled violence and disaster in El Salvador, Haiti, Sudan and Nicaragua. U.S. District Judge Edward Chen said there are “serious questions as to whether a discriminatory purpose was a motivating factor” in the administration’s decision to cut off TPS, which he said would violate the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. Chen noted that beneficiaries with U.S.-born offspring, such as Aguilar, are “faced with the Hobson’s choice of bringing their children with them (and tearing them away from the only country and community they have known) or splitting their families apart.”
Anxious about the uncertainty, fearful for the future and not confident that the judicial system will ultimately protect her — especially now that Brett M. Kavanaugh sits on the Supreme Court — Aguilar prays that the midterm elections might somehow bring a reprieve. She cannot vote next week, but many of her customers at Variedades Latinas can. In 2016, she leased a downtown storefront where a shuttered bike shop had been. She sells clothes, candies, shoes and other wares that are popular in the Caribbean and Central America.
York has become a haven for Hispanics because of the low cost of living. There are many warehouses and distribution centers nearby where workers don’t need to speak English well to get hired. It’s become a magnet for Puerto Rican refugees since Hurricane Maria devastated the island last year. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, so they’re eligible to vote as soon as they arrive on the mainland. Aguilar said most of her customers now are “puertorriqueños.”
“I tell all the people who can vote that I can’t, but they can vote for me. And for Dylan,” she said, referring to her grandson.
Aguilar has kept a stack of voter registration forms on the counter next to the cash register and has asked shoppers as she rings them up if they’re eligible to vote. By her count, 20 people who didn’t realize they could do so registered before the Oct. 9 deadline. Aguilar freely admits 20 new voters isn’t that many in the grand scheme of the election, but she believes that in America every vote counts. She thinks a Democratic-controlled House could find a way to thwart Trump’s plan to send her to El Salvador, perhaps as part of a bigger immigration compromise or by inserting a provision into a must-pass spending bill.
York is in the heart of Pennsylvania’s 10th Congressional District, which has unexpectedly become competitive in the home stretch. A Siena College-New York Times poll published over the weekend found that Rep. Scott Perry (R) — a member of the House Freedom Caucus and a pro-Trump hard-liner on immigration — only leads Democratic challenger George Scott — a Lutheran pastor who served with the Army in Iraq — by two points, 45 percent to 43 percent, which is within the margin of error. Court-ordered redistricting is a big reason the seat is now in play. Trump carried the district in 2016, adjusted for the new boundaries, by nine points.
Voter data shows that only 4.5 percent of registered voters in the district are Hispanic, but that could prove decisive in an especially tight race — especially if the diaspora turns out to vote in a lower-turnout, nonpresidential election. Aguilar is encouraging everyone she knows to vote, regardless of whether they’re Latino. But whether Latinos are energized to turn out, and for whom, remains an open question as the midterms near.
Casa Action, the political arm of the immigrant advocacy group, has an aggressive door-knocking campaign in York that’s focused on neighborhoods with high Latino density. The group has also done several TPS-focused canvasses in Virginia’s 10th District, which includes the D.C. suburbs, where Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock is vulnerable.
“It’s like a ripple effect,” said Grecia Lima, the national political director at the Center for Community Change Action, which is also trying to mobilize Latino voters from Nevada to Florida around the TPS issue. “The pain that is felt in the families that are experiencing anguish … is now being felt throughout the community.”
Aguilar plans to knock on doors around the community and urge her neighbors to vote in the coming days. We spoke in her shop this past Friday afternoon as a young woman tried on three pairs of jeans — all selling for $10 each — before deciding not to buy any. Then a middle-aged man stopped in to transfer some of his Friday paycheck to relatives back home in San Salvador.
Trump’s references to Central American migrants as “invaders” deeply disturb her. After coming to Long Island, Aguilar worked as a loan officer at a bank, saved up her money and then moved to central Pennsylvania because everything was cheaper. She’s purchased a few inexpensive homes and rents them out, mostly to fellow immigrants.
“I’ve been paying my taxes all these years, and I do everything I’m supposed to do,” said Aguilar. “I don’t know the reason they don’t want us here. We’re not on welfare. We work. I’ve never been on a food stamp. I’ve always worked to pay for my own food. The president thinks everybody is in gangs. We’re not!”
Trump’s appointees at DHS argue that life-threatening conditions no long exist in El Salvador, despite experts inside the government who insisted otherwise in private debates that have become public only because of discovery related to the pending litigation. The Trump Justice Department promises to fight to the Supreme Court, and a spokesman said there was nothing discriminatory about DHS’s action. He added that the judge’s preliminary injunction “usurps the role of the executive branch in our constitutional order.”
Aguilar — who stands just 4-feet, 9-inches tall — thought about returning to El Salvador because the money she’s saved up here might go a long way there. But a 2011 trip dissuaded her. “It was so scary,” she said. “I thought I could start a business, but it couldn’t work because of the gangs. Before you even start a business, they ask for money. It’s extortion. … My fear is, if I have to go to El Salvador, I’ll have to sell everything pretty much.”
When there aren’t customers shopping at Variedades Latinas, Aguilar has been going through the contacts on her phone and calling anyone she knows to be a U.S. citizen. She tells them that what Trump says about the people trying to immigrate here, including in the caravan that’s been getting so much attention on cable news, isn’t true. On Thursday, she phoned a Caucasian woman she used to work with in the Big Apple who has since moved to Buffalo, where there’s a House race that’s winnable for Democrats because the incumbent has been indicted on a charge of insider trading. “I called her up,” Aguilar recounted, “and I said, ‘Do me a favor. Go and vote. For me.’”
AN ESCALATION IN THE IMMIGRATION WAR:
— Trump announced plans to sign an executive order aimed at removing the right to citizenship for babies of noncitizens born on U.S. soil, a move that would face certain legal challenges on 14th Amendment grounds and likely end up before the Supreme Court. “It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment. Guess what? You don’t,” Trump told Axios in a video interview that will air on HBO.
The president said he’s run the idea by the White House counsel and plans to proceed, despite the legal risk. “You can definitely do it with an act of Congress. But now they’re saying I can do it just with an executive order,” he said. “We’re the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States … with all of those benefits. … It’s ridiculous. And it has to end. It’s in the process. It’ll happen … with an executive order.”
— Troops to the border. “Homeland Security and Pentagon officials said Monday that they will send 5,200 troops, military helicopters and giant spools of razor wire to the Mexican border in the coming days to brace for the arrival of Central American migrants President Trump is calling ‘an invasion,'” Dan Lamothe and Nick Miroff report.
“Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, the chief of U.S. Northern Command, told reporters Monday that the deployments, dubbed ‘Operation Faithful Patriot,’ already are underway. He said the military … will focus first on ‘hardening’ the border in Texas, followed by Arizona and California …
“The activation of such a large contingent of active-duty forces at the border — as opposed to National Guard troops — has no modern precedent and appeared to be the largest of its kind in a century during peacetime. … The Trump administration’s selection of active-duty service members for the new operation also will eliminate complications with governors who do not want their National Guardsmen involved in the operation. In June, several governors called home Guardsmen from the border amid outrage about the Trump administration’s separation of migrant children from their parents at the border.
“The White House has put significant pressure on the government of Mexico to block the caravan’s advance. The group has diminished from a peak of nearly 7,000 migrants, as some footsore travelers and parents with children have dropped out or fallen behind. At least 1,000 caravan members have applied for asylum in Mexico, authorities say. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Friday offered temporary work permits, medical care and other benefits to migrants if they agree to register with authorities and remain in the Mexican states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, far from the U.S. border. But the core group of mostly Honduran migrants has rejected his entreaty and continued heading north toward the U.S. border. The caravan remains at least 900 miles from U.S. territory, so its arrival is not imminent.”
— Trump was tentatively scheduled to deliver a fiery speech today on immigration in which he was considering announcing a plan to at least temporarily ban the entry of Central American migrants at the southern border. But he canceled the nationally televised address in favor of a visit to Pittsburgh, where he is expected to meet with law enforcement officials involved in the response to Saturday’s synagogue shooting. “The speech is now expected to take place after the midterms, a senior White House official said, in part because of a recognition that the political moment has changed,” Philip Rucker, Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey report.
— What about the Latino vote? “Latinos haven’t fully turned against Trump and his Republican Party,” the Associated Press’s Nicholas Riccardi reports from Las Vegas. “About 25 percent of Latino voters are reliable Republicans, but others seem willing to support the GOP amid the solid economy. … The relatively tepid showing for Democrats so far from some Latino voters was evident this month when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee … trimmed its financial support from candidates trying to oust Republican congressmen in one west Texas district and another in California’s Central Valley. In Texas, polls indicate enough Latinos are sticking with Republican Sen. Ted Cruz that he is likely to fend off a challenge from Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke.”
“Donald Trump is the most hostile president to Hispanics in American history, yet Donald Trump has between a 25 percent and 35 percent approval rating among some Hispanics — higher than 40 percent in Florida,” said Fernand Amadi, a Florida-based Latino pollster. “From their perspective, this Trump’s crazy and a bigoted loudmouth, but we deal with people like this in every day of our lives.”
“Still, there are positive signs for Democrats among Latinos,” the AP adds. “Gil Cisneros, a former Naval officer and philanthropist, more than doubled Latino turnout when he won the June primary for a formerly GOP open House seat in Southern California. Democrats report initial signs that Latinos are requesting ballots at a higher clip in California — home to several competitive House races — and that early Latino voting is strong in a district in southern New Mexico that has long been held by the GOP.”