By Seth Daniel
Jose Iraheta has been at nearly every Chelsea City Council meeting in the last four years.
Even when no one else showed up on cold nights in February, one could count on seeing him there.
He has translated for free to help those who couldn’t speak English, attended virtually every community event, sat next to and chatted up Federal Rese
rve Chair Janet Yellen when she visited Chelsea, and spoke up for things he agreed with and things he did not agree with.
But on Monday night, he was there to tell a far different story.
It was his story, and it was a story about how the man who is everywhere in Chelsea could one day in the next six months be nowhere in Chelsea – all due to the recently announced decision by the Federal Government that the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program is no longer necessary.
“I am a recipient of TPS due to an earthquake that happened in my country (of El Salvador) in 2001,” he said, holding back strong emotion. “I feel somewhat selfish to come up here because this directly affects me and it’s hard to talk about it. When I first heard that they had put out a letter saying TPS might be rescinded, it was a really dark place for me and probably everyone like me. I started thinking about an exit strategy. I’ve spent more time in the US than in my country. I came here when I was 12. I went to school here, graduated from college and built a life here and a home here. The thought of having to leave is so incredibly hard.”
Iraheta was one of several TPS recipients that appeared before the Council to call on the body to pass a resolution that asked the federal government not to eliminate the TPS program, which affects legal immigrants from Haiti, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador who have fled dangerous situations like earthquakes and other disasters.
Many Haitians who fled the earthquake in 2010 are greatly affected. It is estimated that about 340,000 people nationwide have TPS status, but a good many like Iraheta reside in Chelsea.
“This resolution gives me hope and gives others like me hope in this situation,” concluded Iraheta.
Other residents, such as Mario Caballero of Webster Avenue said he is retired, having received TPS many years ago. As a retired man who worked two jobs for more than a decade, he wonders what will happen to him.
“I had no worries at all until I heard this news that TPS could be gone,” he said, speaking through an interpreter. “And just like me, the man who owns the home where I rent an apartment also has TPS. We wonder what is going to become of us. I’ve been on a pension for three years now and my first question is what will happen to my pension and my insurance.”
Councillors voted 11-0 to support the resolution, which garnered a standing ovation from a large group that came to speak on the matter.
Councillor Judith Garcia spoke emotionally about the measure, noting that family members have TPS.
“I know so much how you have contributed to the community and the economy,” she said. “We are breaking families apart. Many of those with TPS have children born here…Expelling residents is breaking up Chelsea…This resolution is a bold and important move. I hope other communities like Everett, Revere and Lawrence will join us. We have six months to really rally and bond together to make our voices heard.”
Councillor Dan Cortell said such decisions in Washington are being made by people who don’t have to look those affected – such as Iraheta – in the eye.
“The people making these decisions at a national level are missing having to look people in the eyes whom they are actually affecting,” he said. “Politicians like Trump aren’t looking people in the ye and understand the ramifications…We cannot sent people back to these places when they are not safe. Change is not going to happen from the top down so it has to come from the bottom up…These are our neighbors and we have to fight for them.”
The resolution won a unanimous vote and was signed by 10 of the 11 members.