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The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) must decide by Jan. 8 whether to extend or end Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for El Salvador. TPS was created by Congress in 1990 and allows people whose countries have experienced natural disasters, armed conflicts or exceptional situations to remain temporarily in the United States. Approximately 200,000 TPS holders from El Salvador live in the United States, primarily in California and Texas.
In August, my brother Catholic bishops led a delegation to El Salvador and Honduras to examine conditions on the ground in both countries and to assess whether those conditions merit an end to TPS, which enables roughly 260,000 Salvadorans and Honduras to live and work legally in the United States. The report they issued overwhelmingly points to large-scale protection issues if TPS holders are forced to return to their home countries, particularly El Salvador.
The economic contributions of TPS holders, particularly their entrepreneurial skill, high employment levels and the taxes they pay to our government, are notable. If TPS for El Salvador is not extended, those financial impacts will be directly felt by our communities; certain industries, such as home health care and construction, will be directly and negatively affected. While the financial contributions of TPS holders are noteworthy, to me what is even more compelling is the fact that these Salvadoran TPS holders are parents to an estimated 192,000 U.S.-citizen children.
There are many “mixed-status” families that are composed of a TPS-recipient parent and U.S.-citizen child or multiple children, living here in the United States. As I meet more mixed-status families here in Texas who have TPS-recipient parents, a question that burns in my heart is what will happen to these children if their parents are ordered back to El Salvador? What will become of their futures?
Will these families face separation and breakdown, so that their U.S.-citizen child can access the benefits of an American education? Or will families stay together and leave to their parents’ home countries, facing a decided lack of opportunity and, worse, extreme violence and possible exploitation? The end of TPS for El Salvador would force such a heartbreaking decision upon thousands of families.
In my role as a bishop of the Catholic Church, I have served and stood by countless Central American families. I have been a guest in their homes and at their first communions, graduations, confirmations, weddings. I have seen these families flourish despite incredible obstacles. Yet, in my time in Central America, I also have seen incredible violence and exploitation. I have been overcome by what I have experienced in El Salvador and Honduras in terms of gang infiltration and threats to citizens’ security.
I have sat with youths who tearfully explained to me why they attempted to migrate north, forced out of their homes, extorted by gangs. I have heard from young girls who faced sexual assault and domestic abuse; teen-aged boys have spoken with me about being afraid to go to school because of the fear of encountering gangs on the way and having to pay daily to enter and leave their neighborhood.
If TPS for El Salvador is not extended, this is what many U.S. children with TPS-recipient parents likely will face. Worse, they may be targeted precisely because of their U.S. citizenship status, their American habits and their English-language skills.
Is this what we are prepared to allow 192,000 U.S.-citizen children to face? The possibility of being hunted by gangs and identified for extortion, gang recruitment and worse in a country that they don’t call home?
How we treat the most vulnerable in our society is reflective of who we are and whether we have learned anything in the 2,000 years since the birth of another immigrant child, born in a stable because his parents could find no room for him at the inn — an event we have just celebrated.
I steadfastly pray that our national leaders do not turn their backs on these children by closing the door to their parents. Ending TPS for El Salvador is akin to exactly that.
Bishop Mark Seitz is the Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of El Paso, Texas.