Miami, Fla., Sep 13, 2019 / 09:15 am (CNA).- U.S. officials announced Wednesday that a protective immigration status will not be extended to Bahamian migrants, despite the small country’s ongoing recovery from a destructive storm this month. Catholic leaders have condemned the decision, and two Florida bishops say that Bahamians need help from U.S. Catholics.
Jose Magaña-Salgado, TPS Campaign Coordinator for CLINIC, said the move lacks compassion, especially while thousands of Bahamians are still missing as a result of the Category 5 Hurricane Dorian.
“There is not even a sense of [the range] of destruction here or the chaos that these individuals are all facing, and to dismiss TPS out-of-hand so prematurely is just a very cruel and unnecessary action,” Magaña-Salgado told CNA.
Established in 1990, “Temporary Protective Status” (TPS) allows immigrants from an unsafe country to reside in the United States for up to 18 months. Immigrants from a TPS-designated nation would not face deportation and would have permission to work. If the country’s problems continue after the initial period, TPS-designates can apply to extend their stay.
“Temporary Protective Status is an immigration humanitarian protection that was created by Congress for situations where it was unsafe to return nationals back to their home country because of extraordinary and temporary positions, like an armed conflict [or] environmental disaster,” said Magaña-Salgado.
“We are strongly urging the administration to use Temporary Protective Status to protect, at least, the 4,000 Bahamians who have already arrived in the United States,” he added.
Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice also expressed concern over the government’s decision for Bahamian immigrants. He said, as a Florida resident, he has witnessed hurricanes and has sympathy for all those affected by this natural disaster.
“The United States has a long history of granting some kind of status to refugees who might come to us because of natural disasters,” he said.
“I think it would have been appropriate, and there was every ability of the government to grant TPS. However, they’ve chosen not to,” Dewane told CNA.
“Florida has the greatest number of Bahamians outside of the Bahamas themselves, so for us, it would have been a natural way in. I think the population of Florida has always been helpful” for people in similar situations, he said.
Hurricane Dorian made landfall in the northwestern Bahamas on Sept. 1 and it churned atop some of the country’s islands for two days. In the Bahamas, the storm’s death toll is officially 50, but that number is expected to climb. 2,500 people are still missing after the storm.
Catholic Relief Services said the hurricane struck the country with winds between 185 mph and 220 mph. More 76,000 people have been displaced or severely impacted; there is not yet power or clean water in the northwestern islands of the country.
According to a recent statistic from The Migration Policy Institute, an estimated 33,000 Bahamian immigrants are living in the United States, a majority of whom are in Florida. Since the storm hit, an additional 4,000 Bahamians have arrived in the U.S.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami told CNA that about 80 percent of the Bahamas is unaffected by the hurricane. However, he said the islands like Abaco and Grand Bahama are devastated.
He said people are displaced from their homes seeking shelter in the southern regions of the country, like the capital Nassau. He said these places are running out of space.
“The Bahamians need assistance with rebuilding after the hurricane,” he said. “A lot of people are concerned. I talked to the [Archbishop of Nassau] twice already and he’s lost a couple of schools on the islands there and he’s lost a church.
“I have taken up a collection in all my parishes. I gave the pastors the option to do either last week or this week.”
The archbishop said he is not surprised that the current administration denied TPS to Bahamians, noting that Venezuelans who face a dangerous dictatorial regime were also denied the temporary status earlier this year.
While TPS has allowed more than 300,000 people to reside in the U.S., the Trump administration has discouraged the use of TPS and tried to remove six countries from the TPS list, USA Today reported. These countries make-up 98 percent of the TPS immigrant population.
Wenski said, in the Parable of the Last Judgment, Christ encourages people to care for the vulnerable. In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ compares the services rendered to those in need as a charity done towards himself. Wenski said, likewise, Christ is reflected in the immigrant.
“We remember that Jesus was the immigrant … not only because he was a refugee in Egypt, but, since God became man, you could say that Jesus immigrated from Heaven to come live among us,” he said.
“So being welcoming to the immigrant is in the DNA of our Catholic faith.”
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