KTEP - El Paso, Texas

A Mom And Her Teenage Daughter Brace For A Future Apart

Jan 11, 2019
Originally published on January 11, 2019 9:01 am

Two decades ago, Maria Rivas emigrated from El Salvador to the United States, where she received temporary protected status (TPS) allowing her to stay and legally work.

But later this year, TPS – a humanitarian program — is set to expire for nearly 200,000 immigrants from El Salvador, including Rivas. If forced to leave the U.S., Maria won't take her U.S.-born daughter, Emily, with her.

At StoryCorps last month, Maria, now 40, sat down with Emily, a 15-year-old high school freshman, to talk about their uncertain future. Given the sensitive nature of the family's situation, Maria prefers not to share Emily's last name.

Emily asks her mother what it was like for Maria to come to the U.S. in 2000, three years before she was born.

"I didn't know [English] besides 'good morning' and 'what's your name?' when I came here," Maria says. "When you were baby, I used to read to you the Dr. Seuss books, like One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. And that's how I learned English, reading to you."

Over the years, Maria has supported her family by working as a housekeeper and a nanny in the Washington, D.C., area. Emily says she never imagined that her mom might have to leave the country one day. "I never really put in much thought that you were an immigrant," she says. "I just thought that, you know, you're my mom."

That suddenly changed early last year when the Trump administration announced plans to end TPS for Salvadorans like Maria.

Emily was at school when she learned of Trump's announcement. "My phone buzzed and I just saw the notification that TPS was going to terminate. And I remember I started crying."

She immediately called her mom.

"I tried to calm you down," Maria says. "I am like, OK, this is happening. This is really happening. So I put myself together, because I knew that I have to be strong for you. And I didn't promise something that I cannot keep. So I didn't promise you that everything will be OK. But I promise I'm going to make sure that you are OK."

Both Emily and her mother are left worrying about the future.

Maria says she's "terrified of missing you growing up." That fear, Maria says, looms larger for her than the thought of returning to El Salvador and facing drought, poverty and gang violence.

As for Emily, she says, "I'm scared that I'm gonna have to do everything all by myself."

"You're not going to be alone, I promised you that," Maria says. "And I'm very hard to get rid of. So I'm going to be on the phone all the time."

She also promises to be a constant presence in her daughter's life. "I'm going to die of an old age and be the pain on your neck all the time," she says, "and make sure that you find strength even in a bad moment."

The temporary protected status for El Salvador natives is set to end on Sept. 9. In the meantime, their status is in limbo as they await rulings on a number of legal challenges to the proposed termination.

Maria says if she has to leave the U.S., she will do so before she is deported to show that she's following the law. Emily will live with a family that Maria used to nanny for.

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Mia Warren and Camila Kerwin.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

StoryCorps this Friday morning, we bring you a conversation between a mother and her 15-year-old daughter. Two decades ago, Maria Rivas immigrated from El Salvador to the United States, where she received temporary protected status allowing her to stay and work legally. But later this year, TPS is set to expire for nearly 200,000 immigrants from El Salvador, and that includes Rivas. If forced to leave the United States, she is not going to risk taking her U.S.-born daughter along with her. At StoryCorps, she sat down with her daughter Emily, a high school freshman, to talk about their uncertain future.

EMILY: What was it like for you to come here to the U.S.?

MARIA RIVAS: I didn't know besides good morning and what's your name when I came here. And when you were a baby, I used to read to you the Dr. Seuss books, like "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish." And that's how I learned English, reading to you.

EMILY: You know, I never really put in much thought that you were an immigrant. I just thought, you know, you're my mom. And I never thought that you would have to leave. I was at school when my phone buzzed. And I just saw the notification that TPS was going to terminate. And I remember I started crying.

RIVAS: When you called me, I tried to calm you down. I am like, OK. This is happening. It's really happening. So I put myself together because I knew that I have to be strong for you. And I didn't promise something that I cannot keep. So I didn't promise you that everything will be OK. But I promise I'm going to make sure that you are OK.

EMILY: What are you most afraid of?

RIVAS: I'm terrified of missing you growing up. It's terrifying. I think that I'm more afraid of that than to go back to my country. Yeah.

EMILY: I'm scared that I'm going to have to do everything by myself.

RIVAS: You're not going to be alone. I promised you that. And I'm very hard to get rid of.

EMILY: (Laughter).

RIVAS: So I'm going to be on the phone all the time.

EMILY: What are your hopes for the future?

RIVAS: That I'm going to die of an - old age and be the pain on your neck all the time...

(LAUGHTER)

RIVAS: ...And make sure that you find strength even in a bad moment.

GREENE: Maria Rivas and her daughter Emily at StoryCorps. This interview will be archived along with hundreds of thousands of others at the Library of Congress. And we should say the fate of nearly 200,000 Salvadoran immigrants with temporary protected status will likely be decided by the end of the year. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.