A group of prominent Church officials from El Salvador visited the United States this week to urge a reconsideration of recent changes to immigration policy.
In January 2018, the Department of Homeland Security terminated the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) that was granted to El Salvador in 2001, following a massive earthquake in the country. TPS is granted for countries who are experiencing an ongoing armed conflict, an environmental disaster, or “other extraordinary and temporary conditions that prevent people from safely returning home to the country.”
Citizens of countries with TPS are generally shielded from being deported if they are found to be in the country illegally. The Trump administration has also recently terminated TPS for Haiti, Sudan, and Nicaragua.
If nothing changes prior to Sept. 9, 2019, about 200,000 Salvadorans will have to leave the United States, presumably to return to El Salvador. In addition to the Salvadorans protected under TPS, there are an estimated 270,000 U.S. citizen children who have been born to these people over the last decade and a half. The bishops were concerned that the termination of TPS would force these families of mixed immigration status to be torn in half.
The forced return of 200,000 people to El Salvador is not an acceptable option, according to many Church officials. Cardinal José Gregorio Rosa Chavez, auxiliary bishop of San Salvador, joined by Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas of San Salvador, Bishop Elías Samuel Bolaños Avelar of Zacatecoluca, Bishop William Ernesto Iraheta Rivera of Santiago de Maria, and Bishop Mario Doronsville-Rodriguez, auxiliary bishop of Washington, spoke at a roundtable discussion hosted by the USCCB and Catholic Relief Services.
The situation in El Salvador is dangerous due to gang violence and severe poverty, said the bishops. This makes it unsafe for people to live in the country, and there are very few employment opportunities. The influx of people returning to El Salvador from the United States may overwhelm the already-fragile economy, they warned. Additionally, many Salvadorans living in the United States send remittances to El Salvador, which provides a boost to their economy.
If TPS is revoked, these payments would end and would further damage the economy in the country.
Gang violence has gotten to the point where the Archbishop Escobar issued a pastoral letter – his first – on the issue in 2016. The bishops spoke about their hope for the canonization of Blessed Oscar Romero, who would be the country’s first recognized saint. Romero was assassinated in 1980.
“The lack of employment opportunities, the fact that gangs have infiltrated every part of life, including schools, in El Salvador, make it almost impossible for a basic life,” explained Jill Marie Gerschutz-Bell, a senior legislative specialist at Catholic Relief Services.
“For these people, they have but few options than to come to the United States.”
Besides the requests for changes to TPS, the bishops and CRS also hoped that Congress would move forward on codifying part or all of DACA into law, plus create a path to citizenship for people who are living in the United States illegally.
The roundtable was part of a larger visit by the Salvadoran clergy. From April 9-14, the bishops were in the Washington, DC area to meet with members of Congress and to visit with Salvadorans living in the area. Alexandria, Va., which is located just outside of Washington, is home to one of the largest concentrations of Salvadoran immigrants.
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