Catholic leaders issued a letter Thursday to United States government officials asking for a temporary legal status for thousands Venezuelan nationals who would otherwise risk returning to a hazardous crisis.

The April 4 letter asks of the Secretaries of Homeland Security and State that Venezuela be designated for temporary protected status for 18 months.

TPS allows people who are unable to return safely to their home countries because of armed conflict, other violence, natural disasters, or other extraordinary conditions to remain in the United States while the situation in their home country resolves. It protects them from deportation and grants them permission to work.

The letter was signed by Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, chairman to the USCCB Committee on Migration, and by Sean Callahan, president of Catholic Relief Services.

“Given the unprecedented humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, its nationals cannot safely be returned home at this time,” the letter read.

According to the letter, an estimated 150,000 Venezuelans would qualify for TPS.

Since Nicolas Maduro became president of Venezuela in 2013, the country has been marred by violence and social upheaval. Under the socialist government, the country has seen severe shortages and hyperinflation, and an estimated 3 million have emigrated.

“Our nation has the legal ability, as well as the moral responsibility, to provide Venezuelans in the U.S. with temporary protection,” wrote Callahan and Bishop Vasquez.

“As you well know, while stability in Venezuela hasbeen tenuous since 2015, it is continuing to deteriorate at an alarming rate,” they added. To evidence this claim, they noted that the State Department issued a Level 4 “Do Not Travel” advisory for Venezuela last month, shortly after it withdrew its diplomatic personnel from the country.

In issuing the travel advisory, the State Department “explained that in addition to violent political demonstrations and shortages in basic necessities (food, water electricity, and medical care), the country suffers from high rates of violent crime, such as homicide,armed robbery, and kidnapping.”

Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo himself suggested that the Organization of American States should be concerned with the crisis in Venezuela (along with those in Cuba and Nicaragua), rather than with lobbying for abortion.

The Catholic leaders noted that “distressing conditions discussed above show that such a designation would be appropriate and could be made either on the grounds that: (1) Venezuela is suffering from 'ongoing armed conflict within the state' and, consequently, return of nationals to the country would 'pose a serious threat to their personal safety,' or (2) that it isfacing 'extraordinary and temporary conditions' that prevent nationals 'from returning to the state in safety,'” making note of the conditions required for TPS under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Callahan and Vasquez said that “providing a TPS designation for Venezuela is also a moral, compassionate and needed response.”

TPS would ensure that Venezuelans resident in the US “are not returned to dangerous and life-threatening situations7and give them an opportunity to live with dignity, work lawfully, andprovide for their families’ well-being until they can safely return home,” they added.

The Trump administration has for the most part been hesitant to extend existing TPS designations.

Last month, the Department of Homeland Security extended TPS for El Salvador, Haiti, Sudan, and Nicaragua to January 2020 only as the result of a federal court order. The administration had perviously determined this status was no longer merited, and it was set to lapse.

Another lawsuit is seeking to extend TPS for Honduras and Nepal.