Washington D.C., Oct 18, 2017 / 05:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As a temporary immigration permit program for families fleeing violence in Honduras and El Salvador is set to expire, the U.S. bishops warn that requiring immigrants to return to unsafe countries is unjust.
“There is ample evidence to suggest that current TPS recipients from Honduras and El Salvador cannot return safely to their home country at this time,” said Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Texas, Chairman of the U.S. Bishops Committee on Migration.
He urged the faithful to keep the people of El Salvador and Honduras, including those with Temporary Protective Status “in your thoughts and prayers,” while introducing a report on the issue, released by the USCCB this week.
The bishop and the report expressed support for an extension of TPS – a kind of temporary immigration status– for people from Honduras and El Salvador, and called for a long-term legislative solution to the situation.
Temporary Protective Status allows people who are unable to safely return to their home nations because of armed conflict, other violence, natural disasters or other extraordinary and temporary circumstances to remain in the United States while the situation in their home country resolves.
In August, a group of researchers from the USCCB’s Office of Migration and Refugee Services traveled to Honduras and El Salvador to assess the circumstances TPS recipients returning to their home countries would face.
The trip was inspired by the upcoming expiration of TPS status for Salvadoran and Honduran nationals. The TPS designation for Honduras is set to expire on January 5, 2018, and El Salvador’s will end on March 9, 2018, unless the Department of Homeland Security authorizes an extension. If the designations expire, more than 200,000 people from El Salvador and 57,000 people from Honduras will need to return to their home countries. These temporary immigrants are parents to more than 270,000 children who are United States citizens.
In El Salvador, gang-related violence has led to widespread crime and extortion, the bishops’ report said. In addition, children and their families are targeted for gang recruitment. This has also led to the displacement of between 200,000 and 400,000 persons in El Salvador.
In Honduras, the bishops’ report said, high homicide rates and internal displacement of families has led to the designation of TPS status for some Honduran refugees. Currently, there are at least 174,000 people who are internally displaced within the country.
Many of the affected families sought TPS as part of the Central American Minors refugee program in order to protect their children from violence and gang recruitment.
The bishops observed that the security situations in both countries has not been fully resolved, and their report warned that the end of TPS might “negatively impact regional security, and have negative economic and humanitarian consequences” in El Salvador and Honduras, as well as in the United States. They also observed that neither country is prepared to receive and reintegrate the full population of citizens that would need to return.
The bishops warn that forcing families to return, including those families whose children are US citizens, would leave returned people at grave risk of violence and targeted gang action.
On top of the policy ramifications of the political situation in Honduras and El Salvador, the destabilization and insecurity in these two countries has made it more difficult for the Church to operate and adequately minister to those in need, the bishops’ conference reported.
The report quoted Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas of San Salvador: “It is truly unfortunate and painful that the Church cannot work because of this atmosphere of insecurity and anxiety that shakes our beloved country.”
The bishops offered a number of policy recommendations for the United States, as well as to the impacted countries and Church leaders. To the US government, they encouraged the extension of the TPS program for 18 months, and also backed efforts to ensure permanent lawful status for some, namely those who are parents of U.S. citizens or who have found employment in U.S. businesses.
The bishops also urged the U.S. to work with both Honduras and El Salvador to help the countries end the violence – particularly violence that targets youth – and form a solid plan to reintegrate families who will need to return. The U.S. government, they said, should “support anti-gang, anti-corruption and systematic integration efforts to ensure greater regional stability and human security.” They encouraged the Central American countries to improve job access and help ensure that Internally Displaced Persons can also return to their homes.
The bishops encouraged the Church and charitable organizations to help with humanitarian aid and supporting a solution to displacement – an issue which will be essential for “possible future TPS returnees.” They also encouraged Church-government partnerships to help people returning to their home countries, as well as any who might seek legal status in the United States and Canada.
“We look forward to working with Congress, the Administration and others in pursuing humane and just solutions for the long-term TPS beneficiaries currently residing in the United States,” the bishops concluded.