At first glance, Benjamin Zepeda and Crista Ramos are like most Latinx teens. Their adrenaline rises when on the pitch playing soccer; they never tire of eating pupusas; they see video games as a fun escape. They’re also suing the Trump Administration.
At 14, they are kids who still need their moms and dads as they navigate high school. But behind the veneer of their typical teenage lifestyle, Benjamin and Crista are burdened with a cloud of worry: Their parents – some of whom are current Temporary Protected Status holders – may be deported to their home countries once their protection is revoked. The teens then have to decide whether to stay behind in the only home they’ve known or go with their parents to a country they’ve never stepped foot in.
Their parents are among 400,000 immigrants facing this dilemma. They came to the United States fleeing natural or man-made disasters – such as earthquakes or civil wars – in their native countries, and the US government granted them humanitarian relief in the form of TPS, often extending the protection from eight to 15 years or more.
The Trump Administration made a decision to terminate TPS, and immigration advocates argue that it’s completely unnecessary, especially as it will tear apart 200,000 US-born children from their families. As of January, Salvadoran TPS holders had 18 months to get their affairs in order before their protection is officially revoked.
“They ended TPS for no legitimate reason.”
As the deadline nears, TPS holders and their children are suing the government. Benjamin and Crista – along with seven other plaintiffs – are legally challenging President Donald Trump’s administration for influencing the United States Department of Homeland Security’s decision to cancel TPS. The lawsuit argues the decision to terminate TPS violates the rights of TPS holders and their US-citizen children because the children have the constitutional right to live in their home country; the government “illegally changed the rules” for how DHS determines TPS extensions and terminations; and the decision was based on “intentional discrimination” in constitutional violation.
“The case came about because of the strong efforts of the National TPS Alliance and other TPS holders who were outraged by what they were seeing and began organizing,” Emi MacLean, an attorney with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, tells me.
While the judge overseeing the lawsuit can’t grant permanent residency to TPS holders, it’s one of National TPS’ goals directed at Congress.
For Benjamin and Crista, suing gives families like theirs a fighting chance to remain together.
“I’m not the only person in this situation, so it really made me think this is a great opportunity for me not just to help my own family but all the other families in the same situation as mine,” Benjamin says.
Similarly Crista adds, “I want to keep my family together and I want to keep my mom here. I felt like I needed to speak up. They ended TPS for no legitimate reason and now a lot of families could be destroyed or separated.
As Crista and Benjamin worry about a looming separation from their parents, they pour their energy into the lawsuit.
“I know a lot of kids, who are the same age as me or younger, who have dreams and want to have really good jobs in the future.”
“I feel proud that my daughter decided to get involved in this lawsuit and more than anything that this came from her directly,” says Crista’s mother, Christina Morales, who is a TPS holder and also plaintiff in the lawsuit. “When TPS was unjustly terminated, we discussed the situation as a family and she decided that she wanted to get involved. Crista is a quiet young woman, but she’s not afraid to speak out when she thinks something is wrong.”
Christina believes her daughter was impacted after witnessing other immigrant families going through similar ordeals.
As the TPS headlines wane, these teens are proof of the possible long-lasting effects of this decision. “I know a lot of kids, who are the same age as me or younger, who have dreams and want to have really good jobs in the future,” Benjamin says. “I want them to be able to accomplish those dreams and they need their families’ support to do that.”
Benjamin hopes to become an engineer when he grows up, but he knows he can’t do it alone. He just started high school and depends on his parents to pay the bills, so he can keep playing on his fútbol team. “I like soccer because it lets me take out all the energy I have inside of me, and afterward, it can help me relax. It’s like a big distraction,” he adds.
Crista also has a clear picture of what she wants in her future. She dreams of attending University of California, Berkeley or Stanford University, and eventually serving her community as an immigration lawyer. Witnessing families separated at the US-Mexico border via the news put her on this path.
“My mom has been here for 25 years. She came when she was 12. She’s always paid taxes and helped pay for a house and education,” she says. “There aren’t many good opportunities in El Salvador like the ones here so if I had to leave I wouldn’t be able to have the opportunity to get into a good college and have a good career.”