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The relief offered by the TPS designation will be helpful to those who qualify, but in the end it offers "precious little," says attorney Zoltan, adding that "most of them will be deported in the end, since TPS does not lead to permanent residency."
The Salvadorans and Guatemalans who received the two-month stay went back to normal proceedings when their reprieve expired on March 8. For many, it meant they would be deported. By June 2000 the thousands of Hondurans and Nicaraguans who sought refuge here will face the same fate. Of course, none of these benefits apply to those who arrived in the U.S. after the December 30 cutoff.
Walter Cruz knew nothing of deadlines or American immigration policies when he left Honduras. "I left on the 15th of January, when we saw how much was lost and how many people were without houses and without jobs," he says.
Yet when Lynda Barros tells him that he did not qualify for TPS, Walter is crushed; he had convinced himself that this new rule would somehow apply to him, that somehow he would be able to stay. Sitting in Barros's crowded office, among piles of papers, he asks about Jose, whom he met at Casa Shelter, wondering what will happen to him.
"Jose is little, and he doesn't have parents to go back to, so he will be able to stay," explains Barros.
Walter sits quietly for a while, unable to comprehend why, if they all went through the same dangerous journey, some get to stay, while he has to go.
Barros has no answers and instead attempts to console him. "ANo te quedes tan triste, muchacho! Don't be so sad! If you ask the judge to grant you voluntary departure, he may give you another few months here, maybe as many as four," she says.
Voluntary departure is a judge's order telling an undocumented immigrant he has a certain number of days in which to leave the country. The immigrants have to pay for their own tickets, but the advantage, says Barros, is that it is not a deportation order. "You don't have that bar on your record. Also, it lets people feel they have a certain degree of control over their lives. They can leave when they want, within those days, and they can take their things with them. It is much more pleasant than having INS agents come looking for you."
Because Walter entered illegally, once he leaves he could be barred from coming back into the United States for either three years, if his stay was less than three months, or ten years, if it was more. If he leaves and gets caught entering the country again after he reaches adulthood, he could also be charged with a federal crime.
His other option -- the one Barros isn't allowed to explain -- is to not show up for his June 1 court date. He could try to remain here as an undocumented immigrant, unable to get a driver's license, afraid to go to a hospital in an emergency, always living life in the margins, but at least able to earn in one day what he made in three weeks of working in Honduras. That, however, would mean the INS would come looking for him at his last address with a deportation order. And any undocumented immigrants staying at his aunt's crowded apartment could be taken, even if Walter was no longer there himself.
Still, it is hard to stifle his spirit. He walks out of the Proyecto office, reviewing his options. "I may leave. I don't want anyone to make me leave. I'll go, but I'll come back. Of course I'll come back. What else can I do