HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Thursday, Sept. 15 is the start of Hispanic Heritage Month. State officials and advocates marked the occasion, celebrating the Latino community and calling for more support.
People gathered for two events at the state Capitol, recognizing the Latino community’s contributions to Pennsylvania and calling on the Biden administration to expand protections for immigrants.
At a rally on the Capitol steps, advocacy group CASA In Action called for the extension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Central American immigrants.
“We need to protect people who [are] already in the United States,” Mirna Gonzalez, lead organizer in Pennsylvania for CASA In Action, said. “TPS for Guatemala now.”
TPS is a federal program, which allows people from certain countries to live and work in the U.S. while conditions in their home countries remain unsafe. The Secretary of Homeland Security can designate a foreign country for TPS.
CASA is asking the Biden administration to extend the designation for El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua and to designate Guatemala for TPS.
“TPS for Central America means affording people the dignity to continue their lives without fear of being separated from their families and from their roots,” Gonzalez said.
CASA in Action says expanding TPS would let more than 1.6 million Central Americans stay in the U.S. including people like Maria Teresa Cartagena. Cartagena spoke through a translator.
“TPS would mean having a permit to be here legally in the United States and protection from discrimination,” she said.
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Born in Honduras and raised in Guatemala, Cartagena fled to the US in 2004 with her kids.
“There were not a lot of resources in my country for me to be able to provide for my children or feed them, and there was a lot of crime so we were fleeing for safety,” she said.
Inside the Capitol, state officials also marked Hispanic Heritage Month, focusing on the them “UNIDOS: Inclusivity for a Stronger Nation.”
“We are one million strong,” Norman Bristol Colon, chief diversity officer for the Interagency 2022 Hispanic Heritage Month Planning Committee, said.
The event celebrated Latinos’ contributions to Pennsylvania, including serving in the armed forces and working through the pandemic.
“So if you want to talk about patriotism, look into the eyes of my community.” Colon said. “When nobody showed up to be in the supermarket, bagging the groceries that you bought, we did.”
Organizers at both events emphasized they want to continue supporting the Latino community year-round.
“We would be able to feel safe here, and this is what I wish for not just myself but all Central Americans,” Cartagena said.
Hispanic Heritage Month lasts until October 15, but for advocacy groups, their work will go on.