Jesus said, “Be compassionate, as your heavenly Father is compassionate.”
Imagine if nearly 100 households in your church or community were informed this week that they needed to leave their homes, jobs, and families in 18 months. That’s precisely what happened this week at St. Matthew’s/San Mateo, one of the churches in our diocese in Hyattsville, Maryland. All of our predominantly immigrant congregations are facing the same situation, in varying degrees, as the immigration policies of our country harden. The news this week was the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to end Temporary Protected Status for Salvadorans.
Temporary Protected Status (TPS), established by Congress in 1990, was and remains a bipartisan gesture of compassion. With its original passage, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers believed in protecting vulnerable people from being forcibly returned to their countries amid instability and precarious conditions caused by armed conflict or natural disasters. While designed to be temporary, bipartisan leaders also agreed over the years that the dire situations of violence and economic instability in their home countries justified extending TPS, and understandably, TPS residents set down roots in our country.
Through TPS, more than 200,000 immigrants have been able to secure work, pursue an education, purchase homes, and raise families. The statistics are impressive: According to the Center for Migration Studies, 88 percent of Salvadoran TPS holders are in the labor force, and collectively they contribute more than $3.1 billion annually to the U.S. economy. The suspension of TPS could have a particularly damaging impact on our region given the high numbers of Salvadoran and Honduran immigrants here.
A similar act of compassion was the motivating factor for the enactment of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allowed those brought to this country as children to be protected from deportation and either attend school or seek employment. In this time of hardening immigration policy, DACA recipients are also at risk of deportation within the next 18 months. And again, given the high percentage of Central American, African, and Caribbean immigrants in our region, we are blessed with many dreamers in our midst.
As you can imagine, our clergy and lay leaders who minister in immigrant-majority congregations are heartbroken. The Rev. Sarabeth Goodwin, Latino missioner, writes:
When I read the news I felt a tightness in my chest, and at the same time a heavy sense of fatigue. I began to think about all the people I know: my church families and the people I know who have had TPS for many years, some as many as twenty or more. What are they thinking? How will they respond? How will they go on living “normally” with the date of deportation just 18 months away? Think of it. Draw the picture. Consider the devastation: children, extended family, homes, and businesses–dreams dashed. These are OUR people.
They are indeed our people, and I’m grateful to Sarabeth and so many other leaders in the diocese who are journeying with the immigrant community at this difficult time.
What’s frustrating beyond words is that these recent political decisions to destabilize the immigrant community are so unnecessary. The hard-working men and women with TPS, and the young dreamers who want nothing more than to live in the country they grew up in, are a threat to no one. They represent the best of American ideals and are making positive contributions to our society. We would be impoverished without them.
I also spoke this week with Fr. Vidal Rivas, senior priest at St. Matthew’s/San Mateo and several of the lay leaders under TPS. In the midst of a devastating week, San Mateo gathered as a church community. Turning to each other for support and through prayer, they showed that because of their faith in Jesus Christ we are never without hope. They expressed their gratitude for so many in our diocese offering them support, prayers, and legal assistance.
Please continue to pray in gratitude to God for the courage and enduring faithfulness of our immigrant communities, and that God’s strength might sustain them in these times. I pledge to be their bishop and stand alongside them now. And I pray for our nation–especially those who consider ourselves Christian–that we might learn to live and govern with the compassion of Jesus.