The Department of Homeland Security announced today that it will terminate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for nearly 200,000 Salvadoran migrants, leaving an open question as to the future for their 192,000 U.S. citizen children.

With the humanitarian migration program now due to expire in September 2019, many TPS Salvadoran families, who have lived in the U.S. for nearly 20 years, will have to decide whether to separate from their U.S. citizen children or bring them to a country where youth face threats of gang-violence and limited opportunities.

U.S. bishops from California and Texas spoke out about the DHS decision. Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, called the decision “heartbreaking.”

“We believe that God has called us to care for the foreigner and the marginalized: 'So you too should love the resident alien, for that is what you were in the land of Egypt' (Deut. 10:19). Our nation must not turn its back on TPS recipients and their families; they too are children of God,” he said in a statement.

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles called for a permanent path to residency and citizenship for the affected families stating, “In the meantime, the Catholic community will continue to walk with our brothers and sisters from El Salvador, opening our hearts to their families in love and charity and welcoming the gifts they bring to this great nation.”

TPS is a short-term immigration status granted to migrants to the United States who are unable to return safely to their country of origin, due to armed conflict, natural disaster, or other extreme, temporary conditions.

The DHS decision comes after their evaluation that the current conditions in El Salvador have improved since the 2001 earthquake that led the U.S. to grant temporary refuge for the Salvadorans originally. Salvadorans currently represent the largest group of TPS recipients in the U.S.

However, a delegation of U.S. bishops to El Salvador in August examined the situation on the ground and concluded, “the large size of the TPS population and the extreme protection and security issues apparent in El Salvador render the government unable to adequately handle the return of its nationals now.”

Catholic Relief Services also released a statement today strongly condemning the decision stating, “From our experience working with the Catholic Church and other local partners in El Salvador, the Salvadoran government does not have adequate humanitarian capacity to receive, protect, or integrate back into society safely this many people.”

DHS is delaying the termination of TPS status for 18 months with the hope that “the delay will provide time for individuals with TPS to arrange for their departure or to seek an alternative lawful immigration status in the United States, if eligible.”

The delay also allows Congress time to address this situation with a legislative solution for the immigration status of TPS recipients who have lived and worked in the U.S. for many years.

“TPS recipients are an integral part of our communities, churches, and nation,” Bishop Vásquez said in his statement. “Without action by Congress, however, recipients' lives will be upended and many families will be devastated.”