WASHINGTON - A delay in the release of new work permits for immigrants that benefit from TPS (Temporary Protected Status) has created a stressful situation for Central Americans, mainly Salvadorans, who are coping with unemployment and the DMV's refusal to renew their ID cards and driver's licenses.
"These agencies are misunderstanding the law. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) extended the work permits, which were set to expire in September, until March. This information was published in the Federal Register. This means that TPS beneficiaries still have legal status, the right to work and to receive a driver's license," said Nelson Castillo, a lawyer who provides pro-bono advice at legal clinics at the Salvadoran Consulate in Los Angeles. However, it seems that state agencies didn't get this "memo," and immigrants with TPS, among them Salvadorans, Hondurans, and Nicaraguans, are suffering the consequences.
The majority of those affected by the delay are Salvadorans, said Mariana Gitomer, spokeswoman for USCIS, but there could also be immigrants of other nationalities.
It has been two months since work permits expired (on September 9th) but USCIS automatically extended them until March 9th. Castillo explained that individuals who renewed their TPS status have had difficulty renewing other types of identification, "even though they shouldn't have to since they still have legal status."
Gitomer explained that USCIS "wasn't expecting to receive so many applications for renewal; the delay is affecting around 53,000 people."
The issue has caused a lot of anxiety for Susy Juana M. Alvarez, 22, the only breadwinner in her family – her parents are disabled and her younger brother is only 8. She works at a factory in Ontario that manufactures equipment for hospitals. Not only did she lose her driver's license, which the DMV refused to renew, but she nearly lost her job, too.
She submitted her application to renew her TPS on time, almost a month before the expiration date on September 9th. Yet she still hasn't received a work permit. The situation has been one big headache.
"I tried to renew my driver's license long before my work permit expired. Despite the extension announced in the Federal Register, and my receipts that proved I re-applied for TPS, the DMV refused to renew my license three times," said Alvarez. "I had to stop driving and ask people for rides. I don't want my car to get taken away; I can barely pay for it."
The circumstances at her job were even more complicated. Her employer began to call her a few weeks ago to request that she submit her new work permit. She tried to explain her situation to the human resources department and to affirm that she could still work legally.
"They gave me a deadline to submit my work permit and they told me to my face that I was working illegally," Alvarez said in a shaky voice. "I told them that I'm not working illegally, and it was they who did not want to acknowledge the proof that I had."
After submitting her documents and continuing to receive ultimatums, Alvarez reported the matter to a human resources official at her company that listens to employees' complaints.
"The Friday that I returned to work, after having gone to the consulate to get advice, they told me that they had already received a few documents and that I could work legally," Alvarez explained. "Personally, I don't think they received anything and they realized that they made a mistake."
Distressed by "not knowing what would happen if I couldn't earn a living," Alvarez wasn't been able to sleep. "How am I going to make it?" she wondered.
Armando Botello, spokesman for the DMV of California, said that the DMV is still distributing information about the delay. "All of the DMV's offices received the memo this past Friday so that they will be prepared for Wednesday, when we will be open later so we can [take time] to inform employees of the new guidelines. Everyone should be aware of the situation."
The DMV, the Employment Development Department (EDD), which grants or suspends people's unemployment benefits), and other state and local agencies should have known about the delay since it was announced in the Federal Register on July 9th. Notwithstanding, the memo was delivered only recently.
"Not being aware of the law is no excuse for not following through on their obligations," said Castillo.
Gitomer said that USCIS has a department specifically designed to distribute information and contact other government agencies that are supposed to receive instructions from the federal government. "We make sure to keep everyone informed," she said. "We've done as much as we can to make sure that every agency is aware."
"The fact that the federal government extended the expiration date for work permits for persons with TPS means that it is illegal to deny them their benefits," said Castillo.