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Driver Arrested After Plowing Into Group Of Immigrant Rights Protesters Outside O.C. Congressman's Office

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A man was arrested after driving his car into a group of immigrant rights protesters gathered outside an Orange County Congressman's office on Thursday. The Orange County Register reports that the still unidentified 56-year-old man was arrested by Brea Police on suspicion of felony assault with a deadly weapon. The Brea Police Department did not immediately return LAist's request for comment.

The group of roughly 200 protesters had been gathered outside of Congressman Ed Royce's office as part of a national day of action in support of preserving TPS, or Temporary Protected Status, as the program is formally known. The protest was part of an action organized by Unite Here Local 11, which represents workers employed in hotels, restaurants, airports, sports arenas, and convention centers. Several hundred people had traveled in a bus caravan to Royce's Brea office after holding a press conference in MacArthur Park this morning. The group planned "to urge Royce to preserve TPS and create a permanent solution" for TPS holders whose status is at risk, according to Andrew Cohen, a spokesperson for Unite Here Local 11. After being denied access to Royce's office, the group began marching in the street where they took over an intersection peacefully for about 10 minutes or so, according to Cohen.

The group was crossing the intersection to head back towards the buses when the "irate driver," as Cohen described him, started to drive into the crowd.

"Things escalated quickly," Cohen said. The driver "appeared to accelerate before he was surrounded by protesters and police," according to Cohen. Cohen told LAist that there were "some minor injuries" reported after the incident, although to his knowledge no one was taken to the hospital. The incident was captured in a video shared by Unite Here Local 11:

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"What I remember is just this guy going through all the people crossing the street," Claudia Aguilera, a Unite Here Local 11 member who threw herself onto the car to try and stop it, told LAist. "People tried to stop him but he just pushed the car. One person was in front of the car and other people got behind."

"I just saw that and I just thought, 'I have to get him to stop,'" Aguilera said, adding that she feared the man would hit people on the other side of the intersection. "He was going to run his car over all these people."

Temporary Protected Status, or TPS as it is commonly known, is a form of temporary U.S. immigration status that has been in place since 1990. TPS status allows an individual to temporarily remain in the U.S. when conditions in their native country would prevent them from safely returning home, most often due to war or natural disasters. There are 13 countries around the world currently designated for TPS; the list in includes El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Syria, Sudan, and Haiti. Although their status is temporary and must be renewed every 18 months, as long as it remains valid TPS beneficiaries are not deportable from the U.S. and can obtain work authorization permits. Despite its name, "in some cases, TPS can seem to be more permanent than temporary — and once a country is included in the list, it can remain there for many years," as NPR noted in a 2015 story.

Aguilera is originally from Guadalajara, Mexico and works as a housekeeper at a Hyatt hotel. She told LAist that although she is not a beneficiary of the TPS program (Mexico is not one of the designated countries) she has many friends who are, and she feels strongly about not just preserving the program but also creating an avenue to permanent resident status for TPS holders.

The future of the TPS program remains in perilous doubt under the Trump administration, meaning that hundreds of thousands of people who have been living and working in the U.S. legally for years could soon be subject to deportation. In May, when the status of Haitian TPS was up for renewal, the administration opted to renew it for just six more months as opposed to the standard 18 months, and urged Haitians to prepare for their status to expire in January. The Department of Homeland Security has until November 23 to announce whether they will be granting Haitian TPS holders another extension. Deadlines for the administration to renew (or decline to renew) TPS for Nicaraguans, Salvadorans, and Hondurans are also fast approaching. DHS's deadline to make a decision on TPS for Hondurans and Nicaraguans is on November 6.

There are 195,000 Salvadorans, 57,000 Hondurans, 50,000 Haitians and 2,550 Nicaraguans who are currently in the U.S. with TPS protections, according to the Washington Post.

Salvadorans have been eligible for TPS status since 2001, and the program has had an enormous impact in Los Angeles, which is home to the largest concentration of Salvadorans of any city in the United States. Many Los Angeles TPS holders have deep ties to the city and have been living and working here for years.

"In the case of Hondureños, Salvadoreños, and Nicaragüenses from Central America, who have had [TPS status] for 16 and 18 years, they have really deep roots in our community and our society and our economy, and have families that would be devastated by them losing this protection," Martha Arévalo, executive director of the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), told LAist in July.

The precarious fate of the TPS program could also fundamentally alter the lives of hundreds of thousands of American citizens: the U.S.-born children of TPS beneficiaries. A report fro the Center for American Progress estimated that 273,200 U.S.-born children have parents from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti who have TPS.