NEW YORK – Following the decision by the Trump administration to terminate the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for 59,000 Haitians currently living in the United States, Austin Bishop Joe Vásquez, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, called the decision “deeply troubling” and warned that it would “tear individuals from their loved ones, homes, careers, and communities.”
TPS was established by the U.S. Congress in 1990 with bipartisan support and signed into law by George H.W. Bush. The program allows for individuals to reside and work in the U.S. if their home country is under threat from natural disaster, violence, or other extraordinary circumstances.
To date, there are an estimated 320,000 individuals living in the U.S. with this status. Many Haitians with TPS sought refuge in the United States following the 2010 earthquake that devastated the island country.
Earlier this month, the USCCB issued a special report on the situation in Haiti and the need to extend TPS following a September trip to the country led by Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami.
In an interview with Crux on Tuesday, Wenski said the Trump administration’s decision to end TPS status wasn’t a matter of sending Haitians back home.
“Home for them is here now,” said Wenski. “There’s no home there.”
Following the September trip, the USCCB delegation concluded: “Haiti is in no position to accommodate the return of the estimated 50,000 Haitians who have received TPS. Doing so would potentially destabilize the small nation, derail its path to recovery, and possibly harm those returned, particularly the up- rooted children. In addition, terminating TPS would needlessly create a large unauthorized Haitian population in the U.S. and contribute to unauthorized re-migration.”
“Being in this country this long, most of them have children here, they’ve put down roots,” Wenski told Crux. “Some of them have bought houses, started businesses, and have jobs. After all these years, they are home here in the U.S.”
Haitians make-up the second largest immigrant group within Wenski’s archdiocese.
“They’re quite concerned and quite nervous,” he said. “They don’t really see the possibility of going back to Haiti as viable.”
In May of this year, then Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly – who is now White House Chief of Staff – provided a six-month extension for Haiti’s TPS designation. At the time, he indicated the program would not likely be renewed beyond the deadline on January 22, 2018. The decision on Monday now sets a final deadline of July 2019 for nearly 60,000 individuals to leave the United States.
Haiti is home to 11 million people, and according to the World Bank, is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. As noted by the USCCB’s delegation report, more than 27,000 children born to Haitian TPS beneficiaries are now U.S. citizens.
“If TPS is terminated, these mixed-status families will have a heartbreaking decision to make – to uproot their children from their homes and the only country they have ever known, or face family separation,” the report stated.
Wenski said that he is praying that in the next eighteen months, Congress will “do the right thing and give them a path to legal status.”
In a special Thanksgiving message released on Monday prior to the announcement on TPS, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, called attention to the plight of refugees and migrants and expressed support for beneficiaries of Temporary Protected Status.
DiNardo said the U.S. bishops have been alarmed by “policies that seemed unthinkable only a short time ago.”
Wenski echoed similar sentiments in an interview with Crux, noting that the number of decisions that have been handed down by the Trump administration pose serious challenges for those without legal status — but also an opportunity.
“This is a new reality that is very troubling,” said Wenski. “At the same time, Trump is a disruptor and maybe in this disruption there might be some alchemy here that would enable some time of comprehensive immigration reform to take place.”
At last week’s annual fall assembly of the U.S. bishops in Baltimore, Wenski took to the floor during an open discussion on immigration and memorably said, “You don’t make America great by making America mean.”
Wenski told Crux that he believes that there’s goodwill on both sides of the aisle and it should be galvanized to bring about bipartisan immigration reform.
“People are not uniformly opposed to a positive immigration reform, even people that voted for Trump,” he said. “I don’t think all of the base is as mean as sometimes their opponents make them out to be.”
To achieve this, Wenski is encouraging Catholics to take immediate action.
“In the short term, we have to contact our congress people in the Senate and the House and say: Let’s fix it for these Haitians and Central Americans, let’s fix it for these DACA kids, and let’s do it in a fair, humane, and just way. Let’s do it in a way that allows these people to dream and allow them a future of hope.
“We have to let the congressmen know that they can vote for DACA and vote for TPS legalization and people are not going to be upset with them about it,” he added.
“We’ve got to encourage congressmen to listen to their better angels. But at the same time, tell them that we’re watching them.”