With Congress in a heated immigration debate, the Ohio Valley region is adding to its immigration courts. Sources within the Justice Department say Kentucky will have a new immigration court operating in Louisville as soon as April, and Ohio is adding additional judges to handle deportations and other immigration cases. The changes in immigration policy have left many people with an uncertain future.
Rosa Gonzalez was hoping for a better life when she came to the U.S. 20 years ago from El Salvador at just 16 years old. Today, she is hoping that she can stay out of court and remain with her two children and husband in Ohio.
“As of right now I have an open case. My husband is a U.S. citizen and I can you know, I can apply for my green card through him. But I feel nothing is certain in. I mean a lot of obstacles there too that we don’t know.”
Gonzales is just one of nearly 3,500 individuals in Kentucky, Ohio or West Virginia who received federal Temporary Protected Status .or TPS visas. They come from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, and 7 other countries affected by armed conflict or natural disaster. Last month, the Department of Homeland Security decided to revoke protections offered to Salvadorans.
“We never know what's going to happen. I mean they keep changing the laws they keep changing everything and all of the sudden you see like OK this is gone this is gone. This is gone. What's going to happen next. It's frustrating.”
In less than a month, on March 9th, these TPS holders will lose legal status unless, they filed for a renewal or successfully sought a path to citizenship. Crestwood, Kentucky Immigration attorney Angela Kortz Funke says Gonzales has a right to be worried about deportation.
“It is a very terrifying atmosphere for many families. And its very painful for the attorney's trying to protect them. We are doing the best we can do.”
Funke says immigration arrests increased by 30 percent over the past year. And.the Trump administration’s changes make it harder for people in Gonzalez’s situation to get a fair hearing. For example, she could apply for citizenship because her spouse is a US citizen. But if she were to be detained in the meantime that might not matter.
“My US citizens who filed permanent residence for their spouse they file a waiver they get to wait here until it's approved and then they go back. They could get it delayed, now you don’t have that, you don’t have compassion.”
The Justice Department has yet to comment on the new immigration court coming to Louisville. Funke says having a new court will make it easier for her to locate her clients. Now, they are often moved from one detention facility to another making it difficult for her to find and defend.
“Some people are already expired and are extremely worried. Other people are trying to renew, in which case we are telling them to renew.”
Gonzalez says she knows that TPS is temporary, but she didn’t think it would end in the sudden way this administration has ordered.
“All of the sudden it's like you are not welcome here anymore, you know. All the work, all the hard work is gone.”
The Department of Homeland Security says TPS holders can apply for nonimmigrant status or any other immigration benefit or protection eligible to them. But that takes time, and that’s something Gonzalez might not have.