Catholic leaders were angered and disappointed by the Trump administration's May 4 decision to end Temporary Protected Status, popularly known as TPS, to more than 57,000 Hondurans living in the United States.
Hondurans who arrived in the United States after their country was devastated by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 now have until Jan. 5, 2020, to return home.
"The administration's decision to end TPS for Honduras is untenable. Returning tens of thousands of people to a country with a staggering unemployment rate, high rates of violence, and few available resources to support them could quickly become a tipping point for communities," said Conor Walsh, the country representative in Honduras for Catholic Relief Services.
He said those who are forced to return will be separated from family and could be targeted by gangs for extortion.
"This decision, as well as previous determinations made for El Salvador and Haiti, will undermine ongoing efforts to address the root causes of migration and violence, and in doing so, lead to more," he added.
Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, said the Trump administration attempted to paint a picture that it had "no choice but to terminate TPS," suggesting that past administrations that extended the protected status for Hondurans had not properly applied the law.
"To the contrary, it is the Trump administration's action that disregards the law and the intent of Congress in creating TPS in the first place to safeguard human lives," she said.
Catholic Legal Immigration officials have been urging the Trump administration to grant an 18-month extension of Temporary Protected Status to Hondurans based on the ongoing humanitarian crisis. The group notes that amid efforts to recover from the hurricane and other natural disasters, Honduras has been plagued by a housing deficit of 1.1 million homes, lack of access to safe drinking water that affects 638,000 people and a food shortage that leaves 25 percent of the country's children under age 5 chronically hungry.
Mercy Sister Patricia McDermott, president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, was similarly disappointed with the decision announced May 4 by Kirstjen Nielsen, the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security.
"The termination of TPS for Honduran nationals is both disgraceful and immoral," she said. "Many of these individuals have been in the U.S. for 20 years, raising families and creating vibrant communities. Forcing their return to a country that is wracked by endemic violence and poverty will put their lives in danger, separate families, and have devastating effects on communities both in Honduras and the United States."
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