A January 2018 rally
A January 2018 rally Credit: Darrow Montgomery/file

For the last 20 years, Donaldo Posadas Caceres has strapped on a harness with a paint gun to scale the towers and steel beams of some of the tallest bridges in the United States.

Whether he’s on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Maryland, the Walt Whitman Bridge in Philadelphia, or other suspension bridges up and down the East Coast, Posadas thinks about his wife and family, because “I will do anything for my family,” he says.

Posadas and his wife came to the United States from Honduras in 1998. Shortly after they arrived, he says, “my wife cried for days” because of the trauma she faced in leaving her family behind while she sought safety.

Once in Baltimore, Posadas was accepted into an apprentice program run by the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, and he learned how to paint bridges. His on-the-job training was painting the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which took six years to complete. 

“When I started I was scared,” he says, recalling the sheer height of the bridge. “But every day that I went to work I felt the love that I have for my family and the pride for having a job and letting me take care of them.”  

The bigger challenge came down on the ground—nearly two decades later.

On Jan. 11, 2018 President Donald Trump criticized protections that the United States gives to immigrants from about a dozen countries that have suffered natural or man-made disasters, like earthquakes or war. When the U.S. government gives a country the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation, immigrants from that country who are already living in the U.S. can stay here legally.

As an immigrant from Honduras, Posadas has lived in the U.S. under TPS.

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said that January, according to people who attended the White House meeting. 

Some 262,000 Salvadorans, more than 30,000 of whom live in the D.C. area, have TPS. President George H.W. Bush signed the Immigration Act of 1990 that allowed immigrants from certain countries to live and work in the U.S. until it’s safe for them to return home. Meanwhile, recipients have held jobs, had children, purchased homes, and built lives.

The Department of Homeland Security announced in 2018 that it would end TPS status for about 400,000 people from six of the protected countries—El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Sudan.

But on Oct. 3, 2018, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court in Northern California put a hold on Trump’s plans to stop renewing the legal status of 300,000 people from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan who have TPS. 

In his decision in Ramos v. Nielsen, one of several TPS lawsuits against the Trump administration, U.S. District Judge Edward M. Chen said that the Trump administration lacked “any explanation or justification” for ending TPS designations for immigrants from the four countries. He wrote that without TPS, the people would be subject to removal from the United States and “suffer irreparable injury.” 

Donaldo Posadas Caceres, photo courtesy Labor Council for Latin American Advancement

For Posadas, this decision offered no immediate or practical relief, as Honduras was not included in the case. But on Feb. 11, 2019, TPS holders and U.S. citizen children of TPS holders filed a new lawsuit challenging the termination of TPS for Honduras and Nepal. TPS for people from Honduras living in the U.S. expires on Jan. 5, 2020, and Nepal, on June 24, 2019. 

Posadas and his 9-year-old daughter are plaintiffs in this class action lawsuit.

He says that it hurts when he hears Trump talk about people who have come to the United States for a better life. He is proud of painting bridges from Maryland to New York. He still remembers the early years of his job, when he slept in the construction trailer so that he could start work at 4 a.m. His work day didn’t end until 8 p.m.

“I don’t think that he can understand how deep our commitment is to work in this country,” says Posadas. “It definitely hurts to hear him talk about us in that way because we are not the way that he says we are.”

Posadas says that he has placed American flags on top of some bridges. He’s also in a documentary called Bridge Brothers, which is about workers who repair bridges. 

“My biggest hope is in God to give the president a new heart. Not just the president, but all the people in Congress, that they pass protections for us,” says Posadas, adding that he is a Christian who takes his bible to work. He says his two favorite passages are Psalms 91 and John 13:34-35. 

The psalm helps him with his job. It starts with, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” The passage from John, which helps him deal with the angry debate over immigration and the plight of his family, begins with “A new command I give you: Love one another.” 

Going forward, Posadas is planning to continue advocating. “We check the news every day when we wake up to see if there is any good news for people with TPS,” he says. 

The hardest part has been talking with his children. “We have tried to explain it to them the best way that we can,” he says. But he has no words to express the possibility that they could lose their parents. He fears that he and his wife will be deported if TPS ends.

During a recent White House press conference on Feb. 15, Trump joked about his legal fight in the Ninth Circuit over immigration and how a judge would likely block his new efforts to declare a national emergency to build a border wall. Trump speculated that the U.S. Supreme Court would later decide in his favor.

When the Republicans controlled both sides of Congress, the Democrats introduced The American Promise Act and the SECURE (Safe Environment from Countries Under Repression and Emergency) Act—both to put TPS holders on a path to residency. But the bills have been swallowed up in the larger immigration debate between Trump and the Democrats.

James Boland, president of the 75,000 member International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, says that about 50 percent of the construction workers in the U.S. come from Latin American countries and that they are being wrongly targeted.

“When I immigrated to this country nobody called me a terrorist, but now we have a President who along with his followers are doing that,” Boland says. “We have a lot of immigrants in the union and in the D.C. area.” 

Two weeks ago Posadas took part in a rally on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol to seek permanent protections for TPS holders from 13 countries. Despite being pelted by freezing rain he said it was worth it. “It was so cold, I’m still feeling the cold,” said Posadas that evening. “But I feel hope because we have to achieve our objectives. To be honest, I thought about the consequences that could come for not taking a stand. Losing our TPS would be the worse consequence possible.”