By Helal Alshalali
I came to America with my mother when I was 11 years old. We came from Yemen, a country gripped by civil war. America offered my mom and I a safe haven and a chance to lead healthy, safe lives where we could work and become members of a community.
Because of the violence in the country where I was born, U.S. immigration officials gave me Temporary Protective Status, which I’ve had since 2014. I greatly benefited from TPS because this allowed me to have the freedom to work, obtain a driver’s license and to live without fear that I could be sent back to a war-torn country.
Before TPS, I lived in the shadows of America. I couldn’t’ work. I couldn’t own a car or obtain a driver’s license. It was a very difficult time because I always thought that there would be no hope for me and people like me who were undocumented. That is until I heard about TPS. This humanitarian protection gave me hope and made me start to think about what my life could look like in the long term. I started to set real goals. I planned for my future.
But my TPS expires in May and Donald Trump wants to end both TPS and DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which gives children brought to the U.S. without papers a reprieve from deportation. Earlier this week, Trump ended TPS for more than 200,000 nationals from El Salvador. He’s already ended TPS for people from Nicaragua, Haiti and Yemen. He has not yet announced a decision about Honduran nationals with TPS.
It is inhuman and cruel to force people who have been raised here, who go to school here, who work here and who are part of their communities to live in a country they no longer know. We are Americans in every way, except for papers.
Where are my human rights and my right to choose to live where I am safe and free? I’m 17 years old. I live with the stress and anxiety that I could be taken from the land I know as home.
Yemen, the country where I was born, is extremely dangerous to live, especially for young people. All I ask is the right to work and live in the United States freely without always having to worry that I will be deported every time I step outside. It’s so ironic that Trump wants to deport immigrants when we know from our history classes that America has been built by immigrants from its founding. In the 1880’s immigrants came to the U.S. for better economic opportunities and in the 1600’s, the Pilgrims came for religious freedom.
Today’s immigrants, as well as all Americans of good will who believe in hard work and fairness, need to stand together against the efforts of the Trump administration, which has shown itself to only want to get rid of black and brown people.
I had always been afraid of speaking up and practicing my first amendment right. But the injustices I see now in our great nation, of families being torn apart for no reason, have made me realize I need to speak out. That is why I am taking a stand against heartless and cruel government officials.
I want to let Congress know that they aren’t only ending a policy; they are ending young innocent lives who were brought to the United States as children by their parents so they have the opportunity for a better life. My mother loves me so much and would do anything for me to obtain a chance for a better future, as any parent would. She only wanted her son to have a better education and a better shot at life. My TPS has allowed me to build a life. Congress needs to pass a clean DREAM Act that provides a permanent status for the immigrants with DACA and TPS. We are asking for the opportunity to continue the lives we have built in America. We want what all Americans want, a shot at the American dream. America was built by immigrants. Let’s give them the chance to continue.
Helal Alshalali is a high school student and immigration activist with the Fair Immigration Reform Movement.