U.S. bishops request that foreign nationals from hurricane-devastated countries not be deported

Puertos Cabezas, Nicaragua. Nov. 7, 2020: People in rubble after Hurricane Eta Path. Credit: Jeiner Huete_P/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Feb 10, 2021 / 11:18 am (CNA).- U.S. bishops and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) asked the Biden administration on Wednesday to protect from deportation certain foreign nationals from countries devastated by November hurricanes.

In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, leading U.S. bishops and the head of CRS urged the administration to grant 18-month Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to foreign nationals from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

“Current conditions prevent foreign nationals from returning safely, and managing their return would only add to existing challenges,” the letter states. “This is compounded with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which further strains limited resources on the ground and imposes an added layer of complication for return.”

The letter was led by Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) migration committee, as well as Bishop David Malloy of Rockford, chairman of the USCCB’s international justice and peace committee, as well as Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services.

TPS is a special designation permitting certain individuals to remain and work lawfully in the U.S. if returning to their home country could put them in danger; circumstances that warrant TPS include armed conflict or an environmental disaster in a migrant’s home country.

The four Central American countries mentioned by the bishops have been severely impacted by November hurricanes. According to Caritas International, Hurricane Eta was the most powerful hurricane to hit Central America in 20 years.

Both Eta and Hurricane Iota–category 4 hurricanes which made landfall within three weeks of each other and only 15 miles apart–displaced hundreds of thousands of people and caused more than $700 million in estimated damages in Nicaragua alone, the bishops said in their letter.

The U.S. has a “moral responsibility” to provide a legal haven for persons hailing from these countries, the bishops wrote, saying that the hurricanes “have devastated communities across Central America.”

“In addition to providing life-saving humanitarian assistance to populations in need, the U.S. has a moral responsibility to provide foreign nationals from these countries currently present in the U.S. temporary humanitarian protection,” the letter states.

Spokespersons for the Departments of Homeland Security and State did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the request.

The Trump administration moved to end TPS protections for certain countries, including El Salvador and Nicaragua.

On Feb. 3, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki wouldn’t say if the Biden administration would renew TPS protections for those countries, noting that the process was “under review.” President Biden has already proposed a pathway to citizenship for TPS holders.

The bishops appealed to American “values” in their request for aid.

“As Americans, we know such a response to be supported by the values, laws, and ideals that this country holds dear; and as Christians, we are called in a special way to make this plea,” it continued. “We therefore join with people of faith all across the U.S. in praying for a swift recovery from these devastating storms and a humane response to those impacted by them.”

A CRS official told told CNA’s Spanish-language sister agency ACI Prensa in November that global attention on other crises–such as the COVID-19 pandemic–was impacting the group’s relief efforts in Central America. The official appealed to Catholics to “not overlook Central America.”

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