By Rhina Guidos
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Days before the U.S. Department of
Homeland Security decides whether to extend or terminate a special immigration
status for some 200,000 Salvadorans in the U.S., a border bishop pleaded with the
Trump administration to think about the well-being of the immigrants’ children who
are U.S. citizens.
In a Jan. 2 opinion piece for the Washington-based political
website The Hill, Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, said he
worries for families in which some members are U.S. citizens and others have a
less permanent immigration status.
He asked what will happen to the children of
Salvadorans who have Temporary Protected Status, known as TPS, if the program ends and people are forced to return to their homeland. TPS grants a work permit
and reprieve from deportation to certain people whose countries have
experienced natural disasters, armed conflicts or exceptional situations so they can
remain temporarily in the United States.
“A question that burns in my heart is what will happen to
these children if their parents are ordered back to El Salvador? What will
become of their futures?” Bishop Seitz asked in the opinion piece.
DHS was expected to decide by Jan. 8 what to do in the case
of Salvadorans with TPS, but various groups in the country, including a
national coalition of cities and counties, are clamoring to allow them to stay.
“The Salvadoran TPS recipients we represent have deep roots
in our communities. Allowing their TPS status to expire will divide families
and harm our cities. Salvadoran TPS recipients have lived in the United States
for an average of 21 years and have 192,700 U.S.-born children,” said a letter
issued Jan. 3 by Cities for Action, which includes signatures from 19
bipartisan mayors of major U.S. cities including New York, Chicago, Los
Angeles, Houston and Washington.
Salvadoran TPS recipients arrived in the U.S. because of war,
earthquakes and other natural disasters, as well as increasing gang violence plaguing the Central American nation.
“These individuals took refuge in our city and have since
become deeply embedded in our economy, houses of worship, schools and
neighborhoods,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in the Cities for
In his op-ed, Bishop Seitz cites the economic contributions
of the recipients and said their absence, should TPS end for them, will be felt
financially and directly in certain industries, such as home health care and construction,
not to mention the loss of taxes they pay to the local and federal government. But
there’s a more noble and Christian reason to help TPS recipients, he said.
“How we treat the most vulnerable in our society is
reflective of who we are and whether we have learned anything in the 2,000
years since the birth of another immigrant child, born in a stable because his
parents could find no room for him at the inn — an event we have just
celebrated,” he wrote.
“In my role as a bishop of the Catholic Church, I have
served and stood by countless Central American families. I have been a guest in
their homes and at their first Communions, graduations, confirmations,
weddings. I have seen these families flourish despite incredible obstacles,” he
Ending TPS for Salvadorans would mean putting the lives of
the parents as well as their children at risk, and permitting the “possibility
of being hunted by gangs and identified for extortion, gang recruitment and
worse in a country that they don’t call home,” he added.
In 2017, Bishop Seitz and other bishops traveled to El
Salvador and Honduras “to examine conditions on the ground in both countries
and to assess whether those conditions merit an end to TPS,” he said.
Their delegation determined “large-scale protection issues
if TPS holders are forced to return to their home countries, particularly El
Salvador,” he said in the op-ed.
“Will these families face separation and breakdown, so that
their U.S.-citizen child can access the benefits of an American education? Or
will families stay together and leave to their parents’ home countries, facing
a decided lack of opportunity and, worse, extreme violence and possible
exploitation? The end of TPS for El Salvador would force such a heartbreaking
decision upon thousands of families,” he wrote.
He said he met with youth “who tearfully explained to me why
they attempted to migrate north, forced out of their homes, extorted by gangs.
I have heard from young girls who faced sexual assault and domestic abuse;
teenage boys have spoken with me about being afraid to go to school because
of the fear of encountering gangs on the way and having to pay daily to enter
and leave their neighborhood.”
If TPS for Salvadorans is not extended, those forced to
leave and their U.S.-born children will face those conditions, too, he said.
“Worse, they may be targeted precisely because of their U.S.
citizenship status, their American habits and their English-language skills,”
he wrote. “I steadfastly pray that our national leaders do not turn their backs
on these children by closing the door to their parents.”
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