“What are you most afraid of?”

“I’m terrified of missing you growing up.”

This month, we’re releasing a new series of animations titled Moments that Define, all about life’s turning points — the difficult choices, helpful gestures, and chance encounters that have shaped, and continue to shape, the lives of StoryCorps participants.

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One of these stories features Maria Rivas and her teenage daughter, Emily. Born in El Salvador, Maria first came to the United States in 2000. After her arrival, she was granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) — meaning she was able to live and work legally in this country.

TPS is a government program that currently applies to people from ten countries: El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, TPS may be granted “due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately.”

“Conditions” are defined broadly — and have referred to events like the 2010 earthquake in Haiti or the ongoing Somali Civil War, for example.

In 2001, two earthquakes struck El Salvador. According to the New York Times, the U.S. government granted TPS to nearly 200,000 Salvadorans living in the U.S. at that time, including Maria.

In the years that followed, Presidents Bush and Obama extended protections for Salvadoran TPS recipients. In a Washington Post article about the Rivas family, journalist Jennifer Miller wrote that “by Jan. 8, 2018, TPS for Salvadorans had been extended a total of 11 times.”

But in January 2019, the Trump administration announced that TPS was set to expire for people from El Salvador. That means that on September 9, 2019, Maria will most likely have to leave the country. UPDATE: The government has extended TPS for people from El Salvador through January 2, 2020, after being blocked in court.

Over nearly two decades living here, Maria and her family have built a life in the United States. She said she decided she won’t risk taking her children with her to El Salvador — a country they’ve never been to, where gang violence and poverty are rampant. 

Maria said she has decided that her 15-year-old daughter Emily will stay behind in the United States to live with close family friends.

In December 2018, mother and daughter came to StoryCorps to talk about what living apart will mean for their family.