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Amid call to reunite separated families, a plea to fix TPS for Haitians and others

Haitian and immigrant advocates in Miami on Friday joined the rising call to reunite undocumented parents separated from their children at the border, and they asked the U.S. Congress and the Trump administration to find a permanent solution for more than 300,000 immigrants affected by recent federal government decisions to end Temporary Protected Status.

In the past year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has announced the cancellation of temporary protections from deportation for migrants from six countries — Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti, Nepal, El Salvador and Honduras — amid President Donald Trump's toughened immigration stance. Earlier this week, following widespread national backlash, the president signed an executive order ending family separations under his administration's "zero tolerance" policy for illegal border crossings.

Still, as of Friday, 2,300 separated youths remained in shelters and foster homes across the country, including in South Florida, where activists are planning a Saturday protest in Homestead following a tour of a facility by local members of Congress..

Immigrant advocates see parallels between that situation and the end of the TPS program. "As we look at what's going on at the border, it's a reminder as to what will happen," Marleine Bastien, founder of the Family Action Network Movement, or FANM, said Friday at a TPS workshop her organization sponsored.

Bastien and other advocates say the 300,000-plus TPS recipients have 127,000 U.S.-born children. Randolph McGrorty, the head of Catholic Legal Services, said the number is even higher — 500,000 — when you add in undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, known as "Dreamers" under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

"If a permanent solution is not found, what will happen to the 127,000 U.S.-born children? Will they be forced to go into unsafe situations ... or will they be forced to go to foster homes?" Bastien asked.

TPS recipients from Haiti and some Central American nations joined her and other immigration activists at the Little Haiti Cultural Center to discuss the 2019 expiration dates for TPS, and try to find ways to stop the expiration of the program.

Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski, who attended the event, said, "The biggest problem with TPS is that when it was designed, there was no thought to what we do when temporary status becomes permanent status. And that's why we are in this situation right now.

"It's never been the solution that we needed," he noted. "Perhaps what President Trump has done can become an opportunity because it now forces Congress to act. That's what we have to do, put this in the court of Congress."

On Friday, Trump seemed to indicate that passage of a comprehensive immigration bill wouldn't happen until after the November elections. During an early morning Twitter storm, he called on voters to "Elect more Republicans in November and we will pass the finest, fairest and most comprehensive Immigration Bills anywhere in the world. Right now we have the dumbest and the worst. Dems are doing nothing but Obstructing. Remember their motto, RESIST! Ours is PRODUCE!"

On Friday, the Miami advocates focused on legislation supported by several South Florida lawmakers that specifically address TPS. They also noted that they are closely monitoring several lawsuits that have been filed on behalf of Haitians, Salvadorans and Hondurans in federal court. The suits essentially argue that the Trump administration used inappropriate racial considerations in making its TPS decisions.

"We can't let Congress forget about TPS recipients," Wenski said. "IF TPS goes away without a solution, without a means of the TPS recipient staying in the country, then we will witness further traumatic and terrible scenes of families being ripped apart. And these won't be families along an isolated border in Texas but these will be our next-door neighbors. So we have to put the solution on Congress."

Jack Lieberman, a Haitian rights activist who helped found the Haitian Refugee Center in Miami 40 years ago, said there isn't an immigration crisis in the U.S. "There is a crisis of morality, a crisis involving racism and xenophobia," he said. "The American people are not threatened by immigrants. This country was built by immigrants. ... That's what makes this country great."

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