Cecilia Martínez was 15 in 1998 when she slipped into Arizona from Mexico. She came with no family and arrived to none, striking out on her own, scraping by on babysitting and bagging groceries. It was hard but preferable to her native El Salvador: “I came to work. Everyone said you could make a better life here.”
Indeed she has. Three years after she arrived, Martínez received temporary protected status (TPS), an immigration classification given to people from countries where conditions—such as armed conflict or natural disaster—would make returning unsafe. El Salvador qualifies: In 2001 two catastrophic earthquakes struck, and since then escalating warfare among gangs, police, and the military has made the nation one of the world’s deadliest outside of war zones.
Martínez is among the 200,000 Salvadorans who currently have TPS, meaning they can legally live and work in the United States. She has a business cleaning homes and construction sites on Long Island, New York. And she has two children, ages 17 and 12, who are U.S. citizens.