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Ending TPS for El Salvadoreans Economically, Morally Wounds U.S., Argue Faith Leaders

CASA de Maryland, an immigration advocacy and assistance organization, holds a rally across from the White House on Jan. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON – Faith leaders called on the Trump administration to pass a “permanent” legislative solution for the current recipients of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) living in the United States from El Salvador, calling termination of the program “morally wrong.”

“This is a policy that has been renewed time and time again by different administrations regardless of party. Terminating the TPS for Salvadoreans is morally wrong. It will separate families, tear parents from children and divide communities,” Noel Andersen, reverend at the Church World Service, said during a conference call on Thursday. “We do need legislation. We do need a permanent solution, but at the same time we do need to extend the TPS for the people who have it such as El Salvadoreans.”

TPS, which is extended to certain foreign nationals unable to safely return to their home countries, exists for El Salvadoreans through Sept. 9, 2019. The Trump administration formally announced Monday that the program would be discontinued for El Salvador. The administration had previously announced the end of TPS for people from Sudan and Haiti.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen noted that “in recent years, the U.S. government has been repatriating individuals back to El Salvador – more than 39,000 in the last two years – demonstrating that the temporary inability of El Salvador to adequately return their nationals after the earthquake has been addressed.”

“Based on careful consideration of available information, including recommendations received as part of an inter-agency consultation process, the Secretary determined that the original conditions caused by the 2001 earthquakes no longer exist. Thus, under the applicable statute, the current TPS designation must be terminated,” Nielsen said in a statement. “…Salvadorans in the United States who benefited from TPS may still receive other protections under our immigration system for which they are eligible.”

Maria Swearingen, reverend at the Calvary Baptist Church, said ending the TPS program does not “align” with the U.S. government’s claim that the nation believes in “liberty and justice for all.”

“I implore this administration to treat TPS holders from El Salvador with the dignity that they deserve and no matter what unjust decisions the administration built on sand might make, I know justice is not temporary,” she said.

Jaime Contreras, a naturalized U.S. citizen from El Salvador, U.S. Navy veteran and vice president of SEIU 32BJ, explained that he was undocumented when his parents brought him to the U.S. at 13 years of age during the civil war in El Salvador.

“I think the vast majority of Americans would agree with me that separating families and sending immigrants back home to face potential harm and death is the completely opposition of what our values are,” he said. “Economically, it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever to end TPS. Ending TPS would cost all employers over $1 billion in turnover costs to hire and train new people in the workforce.”

Contreras said many of the 40,000 TPS holders in the Washington, D.C., metro area own a home.

“In Maryland, 5,100 of those TPS holders [hold a] mortgage. They have a house. In Virginia, 7,000 of the 23,000 in Virginia alone hold a mortgage, so if you add those two together not including D.C., it’s over 12,000 mortgages that are at risk. It doesn’t seem to make any sense to me,” Contreras said, adding that SEIU supports a pathway to citizenship for TPS holders.

Rev. Sharon Stanley-Rea, director of Disciples Refugee & Immigration Ministries and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the U.S. & Canada, said the Trump administration should renew TPS status for El Salvadoreans instead of sending them back to face violence in their home country.

“We have seen and we believe in the light of hope and we are deeply committed to maintaining protections for our neighbors, to not decimating their families by separation, to not diminishing our communities and our economies by taking away our neighbors,” she said. “We are gathering around TPS recipients like kings gathered around the manger and we are committed to acting very actively to not take away the light of hope from our TPS neighbors and to not return them again into conditions of violence.”