AMERICA: PLEASE TALK ABOUT ME, BEHIND MY BACK, TOO

American-flag-AmericaI am panicking. It’s already the middle of August, and America isn’t talking much about me. Not many news sites are talking about the me that holds an immigrant “status.”

TPS news is not going viral, which is unfortunate for thousands.

TPS (Temporary Protected Status) is not really an immigrant status.

It’s not a visa. It’s not a permanent or stable residency. In short, it holds little to no claim to citizenship. It’s a temporary program that grants legal protection from deportation for persons who immigrated to America to escape war or natural disaster.

A person doesn’t apply to TPS from their home country; it doesn’t work like a visa. A person comes through illegal means, not through ill wish, but through a need to survive. If a country is indeed inhabitable, Homeland Security adds the country to a small and selective list of TPS designated countries. Then, an individual can apply for a temporary work permit and a temporary protected residency.

A recent news piece about TPS deals with Central America and was published through NBC this past Friday. Before that, there was a similar article from Mother Jones, with an opening quote of “We don’t have a plan B” published early in August. According to NBC news research, Central American TPS holders make up 80% of the TPS population. In 2014, MigrationPolicy.org estimated that there were over 340,000 TPS beneficiaries from countries like Haiti, Syria, El Salvador, and Honduras.

TPS affects hundreds of thousands.

I have been a TPS holder since 2001. Since learning and understanding my legal condition a few years ago, I have lived with mixed guilt and relief. TPS is only renewed if the Secretary of Homeland Security believes that a country is not ready to receive its people back. TPS is then extended for 18 months. The renewal process includes a filing fee of nearly $500 dollars per person.

TPS means you will go home eventually. The thing with TPS is that in many cases, it carries on for several decades—not out of a fault in the system, though many will argue that. The thing with TPS is that its extensions reflect the global instability of third world countries.

Like other TPS holders, I live in constant anxiety about the future.

I share the same sentiment with DACA recipients, and now, they share the same legal experience as me. We do not, though, share the same support. The cultural and political interest is lacking. TPS does not have age limits. The thousands of us that have it are children, students, parents, and grandparents. We aren’t just youth, as are the DACA recipients. And again, many have held TPS for decades, holding jobs and raising families: Americans without citizenship, there but overlooked.

In 2013, I volunteered with CARECEN, one of the few local organizations that works closely with the TPS community. I was not a fighter, then. I did not last long. With each failed protest, with each project’s small waves, and with each human interaction, I felt hope flee my heart.

There are days, TPS has an incredible ability to make me feel alone.

TPS for Honduras and Nicaragua expire in January 2018. For El Salvador, it’s March 2018. News of its renewal (or lack of) is released through a press statement from Homeland Security about six months before its expiration date.

Come September, I’ll be a little closer to knowing my future.

Sometimes, the lack of talk is good. It could mean that TPS is safe. It’s not an important issue. It could also mean that TPS holders are unprepared, easy targets. This is how it happened for Haitians, who are currently campaigning to stay in the U.S. longer. Their TPS status, designated in 2010, was extended for only six months, instead of the program’s usual 18 month renewal period.

I know TPS is not reliable. I know my having crossed the border as a child is a crime. Most TPS holders aren’t asking for citizenship. Like me, they ask for a permanent residency because despite our lack of legal certainty, we are Americans, permanently.

I don’t know what happens next.

I haven’t known for years. I am standing on such promising and such dangerous ground. As a recent college grad, my adult life is just beginning. As a recent college graduate with TPS, I don’t know if I will be legally allowed a job in 2018.

The bigger problem is that my America doesn’t know how I fit inside—what will become of me.

Please talk about me.

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1,000 miles: step 81

The graduation glow doesn’t last forever. The pride, though, persists. I’ve framed one or two graduation pictures, and I’m still in awe at my large, vertically shaped diploma which confers me, Claudia V. Rojas, a Bachelor of Arts in English with recognition.

Now let’s get down to business and ask the real questions. Here is a recent interview I conducted with Claudia Rojas:

What’s the best part about being a college graduate?

It’s the new sense of time. I don’t have to worry about turning in an essay any time soon. I’m not stressed about grades. I have a life outside of school. I exist!

Central Park

Central Park, a wonder

I’ve actually done more travel this summer than any previous summer combined. This June, for example, I went to New York City, for the first time ever. I spent a short weekend discovering Battery Park in lower Manhattan, where I saw the Fearless Girl statue and walking around the giant forest of Central Park. Of course, I snapped tons of picture for the Instagram feed!

I’ve explored close to home, too, places I should’ve already known if it weren’t for college and my workaholic tendencies. From visiting an old favorite, Old Town, Alexandria to a new favorite, Arlington’s Crystal City which is bursting with life all summer long. Recently, I took the Silver Line to Reston, which isn’t exactly close to me, but is one of the biggest metro projects in recent DMV history, phase one of the two part project completed in 2014. Yay, history.

What’s the worst part about graduation?

Unemployment, and the fear of long-term unemployment. As a part-time student, I was able to gain work experience while in college. I figured this would make the full-time job search easier. In some ways, it does. I can speak to my work years in cover letters. I have a better sense of what companies and work setting I like and don’t like.

Of course, I figured getting a full-time job in my field, writing and editing, would be difficult. What I didn’t anticipate is my own sense of panic. There have definitely been days where I have questioned my merit as a candidate. Job applications are similar to poetry submissions–they both send rejections your way.

In true Claudia spirit, I have kept going. One of the things that I’ve tried is freelance writing. That’s right, if you ever need a freelancer, find me and hire me on Upwork! I am always on the look for small poetry projects; that’s where my heart is at, after all.

What’s been keeping me busy?

Book sculpture at Library

A library day at my local Falls Church library

Job applications: I’ve been conducting an intense search for hiring companies and researching employee reviews with said companies. At home, at the library, or on the phone, I’ve been searching for editing and writing positions. Internship opportunities. Summer work. You should see my excel spreadsheet.

Poetry: I’ve had time to work on my poetry. In the past, I was organizing poems according to forms, because I was and am in love with forms. Now that I’m out of school (and graduate school will be a few years into the future), I can look at my poems as a whole.

I’ve decided that many are ready to be organized into a collection. Since I’ve been unemployed for over a month, I haven’t been making an income. Fortunately, there’s a lot of free writing workshops in Northern Virginia and publishing webinars. More fortunately, I gained some marketing experience when I created and succeeded with a small GoFundMe campaign. I’m currently working on final edits and submitting to literary venues and contests with reading fees.

Volunteering: I’ve become a contributor with Booked for Reviews (B4R), a blog for young readers. Check out my review for Walter Dean Myers’ Darius & Twig and Dawn Lajeunesse’s Star Catching. Can you tell that I have a soft spot for the young adult genre? Additionally, I’ve been volunteering with a junior youth program at my local library. Though I’ve stopped tutoring, I suppose kids have a way of finding me.

Anything else?

Yes! While I’ve been getting rejections from journals and magazines, I’ve also been gathering a few acceptances. Stay tuned to find out where. Next week, I also have some news, so don’t miss that.

Have a question I didn’t ask myself? Post a comment! Tweet me. Message me. I’m here.