Harvard students and employees joined thousands of marchers from across the country in Washington D.C. Tuesday to rally for the preservation of Temporary Protected Status, a program that provides some immigrants with temporary refuge in the United States if their home countries are affected by armed conflict or natural disaster.
“I believe in the power of marches like this one. I don’t think Trump is really scared of 5,000 people showing up in D.C. It happens often for various issues,” Salma Abdelrahman ’20, who traveled to D.C. for the march, said. “I think it’s more about what conversation this sparks. It’s easy to end TPS when no one knows what TPS is.”
The march began at 10 a.m. with a press conference in front of the White House, where Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) spoke to attendees. Then, roughly 5,000 people marched toward Capitol Hill in the rain, ending their demonstration hours later in front of Congress, according to Harvard employee and attendee Julio Perez.
Perez, who came to the United States from El Salvador and was granted TPS 18 years ago, is protected until this upcoming September or — potentially — next March, if legal efforts to prolong protections are successful. Perez said he thinks as many as 60 to 100 Harvard employees are TPS recipients.
The Department of Homeland Security announced in September 2017 that it would end TPS for six of 10 protected countries. Individuals from those countries — El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Sudan — make up about 95 percent of TPS holders. More than 400,000 individuals from those countries are TPS holders.
Perez — who is on the Massachusetts TPS Committee, a member of the Harvard TPS Coalition, and a custodian at the Harvard Art Museums — said the march was like “a flame on the road under the water.”
“The rain was not able to shut it down, turn it off,” he said. “These people were on fire.”
Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers representative Geoff Carens, who went to D.C. to support fellow Harvard marchers, said the crowd stopped at the Trump International Hotel as they proceeded through the city.
“There was a display created that was basically a wall created out of cardboard or poster-board. There was a destruction, a tearing down of the wall, a symbolic ripping down of barriers,” Carens said. “That was a very affecting display. It got a lot of attention.”
“I am aware that there is a tremendous amount of hatred and harm being inflicted on immigrants by our government and, in particular, our president,” Carens added. “Obviously, many of these people with TPS status have been here for decades, and they really don’t have connections to the places where they are going to be shipped back to. So, it’s a humanitarian crisis.”
Activism surrounding TPS holders is nothing new at Harvard. Last semester TPS advocates met with University President Lawrence S. Bacow about the University’s approach to supporting its TPS workers. Before that, former University President Drew G. Faust also urged lawmakers to protect the program.
For Perez, his advocacy for maintaining TPS protections is not easy, but it is necessary.
“I have no vacations anymore, I only have sick time,” he said. “But I’m not going to stop doing this.”
Correction: Feb. 20, 2019
A previous version of this article misspelled Salma Abdelrahman's name.
Correction: Feb. 20, 2019
A previous version of this article misquoted Geoff Carens. He said he is aware of the "hatred and harm being inflicted on immigrants," not the "hatred and harm being afflicted on immigrants."
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