Churches and Christians Under Temporary Protected Status Benefit From the US Government Showing Mercy

A blank foster parent application sits on Andrea’s kitchen table, waiting to be filled out. When she and her husband—both youth pastors at a small-town evangelical church—printed the form, she looked forward to fulfilling a lifelong dream of becoming a foster family: a safe, stable place for children whose lives had been turned upside down. Children unlike herself.

Growing up, her childhood as a Salvadoran immigrant to the United States was tranquil. Andrea, who requested that her last name not be used, did have vague knowledge of the rolling deadline that came up every 18 months, with its accompanying stress over paying the $2,000 fee to maintain her family’s temporary protected status (TPS) with US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). But every family had financial concerns, so she felt theirs was nothing abnormally burdensome.

“We just lived a normal life,” Andrea said. “We’re as rooted as anybody.”

The TPS program currently allows 417,000 immigrants who fled extraordinary circumstances to live in the US with permission to work. Many have become deeply enmeshed in their communities, impossible to extricate without sending ripples of instability through families, churches, and businesses.

The Trump administration’s decision to terminate TPS for some countries has shaken America’s immigrants. Many will face the decision to remain illegally in what they consider to be their home or to return to a place that would be unsafe for their families. The terminations also cast a shadow of uncertainty over efforts to extend TPS to immigrants from Venezuela. The political situation there has grown dramatically unstable as opposition leader Juan Guaidó, backed by the US and more than 50 nations, continues his attempted ouster of President Nicolás Maduro.

Politically, most observers agree that TPS for Venezuelans is tenable. Because of the communist, anti-American rhetoric of Maduro, the US offering protection to those fleeing his regime has both humanitarian and diplomatic merit. “Venezuela, in some ways, is a textbook case for why TPS was invented,” said Matthew Soerens, director of church mobilization for World Relief.

The TPS program was intended to allow those in the US without other legal documentation to remain “due to conditions in the country [of origin] that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely,” explains USCIS. Typically this includes war, natural disaster, or significant instability.

Federal lawmakers have filed bills to extend TPS to Venezuela, which “clearly meets the standard for TPS as it is obviously too dangerous for Venezuelan nationals to return to their country,” wrote 24 US senators in a March 7 letter to President Donald Trump.

Lawmakers have also filed bills to extend protections for other countries losing TPS, such as Honduras and El Salvador. These are more intended to address the reality that many of these immigrants have established lives in America. While democratically governed, Latin America’s Northern Triangle nations are still largely controlled by gangs and do not offer the same economic stability.

But the decision to allow groups of people to come to the US should always weigh multiple factors, not just the humanitarian concerns of individual immigrants, said Mark Tooley, editor of Providence, a conservative foreign policy journal. While he acknowledges the situation in Central America is no doubt dangerous for its residents, Tooley says gang violence and poverty don’t necessarily merit a diplomatic solution. (That stance is congruent with the Trump administration’s policy change disallowing gang and domestic violence as grounds for asylum.)

By extending TPS to Venezuelans, in contrast, the US would be using the program toward its diplomatic end, as condemnation of a hostile government, Tooley argues. “The US government is not a strictly humanitarian operation,” he said. There could very well be a good argument for including a new country, for extending TPS for some, or for finding a permanent solution for recipients, he reasons. But those decisions should be based on a comprehensive assessment of what’s best for US citizens.

‘It has never been very temporary.’

Even if TPS is offered to them, some Venezuelans fear a future similar to that of their Central American neighbors, said one pastor in Illinois who leads an evangelical congregation that is mostly Hispanic and requested anonymity for their safety. One of his Venezuelan members is in the US on a student visa and told him she was not sure she would take TPS even if it were an option. If she registers, she predicts she’ll be easier to deport when the program ends—whether or not Venezuela is stable. “She’s feeling trapped,” the pastor said.

For immigrants in his church in South Carolina, especially those from Venezuela, associate pastor Victor Prieto said the temporary designation is a flicker of hope. “At least they have this freedom of being able to get a driver’s license [and] go to work,” he said. “Even if you give them a month of peace—of freedom—they will take it.”

Prieto is Venezuelan American himself and is connected to Central Americans through his role as chair of the language and linguistics department at Northern Greenville University. In some cases, he said, the TPS window of time is long enough for immigrants to fall in love and marry or to obtain the kind of work that allows them to qualify for more long-term visas and green cards.

Renewals are common. In El Salvador, for instance, a series of devastating earthquakes led the US to offer TPS to its citizens, but the Bush and Obama administrations continued to renew it for 17 years as violence increased.

As TPS is extended and extended, families like Andrea’s put down roots. However, their feeling of a local life is not grounded in reality, as she found out in January 2018 when the Trump administration announced it would allow TPS to expire for about 313,000 people from Nicaragua (in place since 1999), El Salvador (since 2001), Haiti (since 2010), and Sudan (since 1997). A federal court in California blocked the termination last October, and the case is now tied up in appeals.

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Source: Christianity Today