It felt bittersweet to Archbishop Thomas Wenski to have to hold a news conference stressing the importance of giving immigrants a path to citizenship on the day before the United States would celebrate its own roots.
But that’s what he did Wednesday. Two days earlier, the Department of Homeland Security announced the end of Temporary Protected Status for Haitians, which offered between 50,000 and 60,000 refuge in the United States after the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The TPS program, enacted in 1990, affords nationals from countries facing natural disasters and other upheavals temporary residency. The Trump administration has given Haitians under TPS 18 months to leave, after which they would face deportation.
Advocates of the phase-out point out that the provision was never meant to provide permanent refuge. But from his own experiences traveling to the country in the past year, Wenski said Haiti isn’t ready to receive that many people back. And for those who have lived in America for nearly eight years, their homeland is no longer home.
“Home is here,” he said.
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On Wednesday, surrounded by journalists at St. Martha’s Catholic Church in Miami Shores, he called on Congress to pass bills proposed by Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo and Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson. Curbelo’s bill, which Wilson is co-sponsoring, would offer a path to permanent residency and citizenship to immigrants currently in the United States under TPS. Wilson plans to file a bill focusing on Haitians to allow those who meet certain requirements legal permanent residency.
“Eighteen months is a doable window, I think,” Wenski said.
Sitting to Wenski’s left, Randolph McGrorty, the CEO of Catholic Legal Services, said that of the 50,000 to 60,000 Haitians who came under TPS after the quake, about one-third went to Miami-Dade. Since settling in the United States, they’ve had about 27,000 children who are citizens.
McGrorty said he recommends those under TPS talk to a lawyer or a nonprofit with legal services about their options.
He urged people not to panic, noting that deportations have actually fallen since the last year of Barack Obama’s presidency. The difference is that deportation has gotten chaotic and random, he said.
“Now anyone on the streets is open to being deported,” he said.
The two likened the current conversation to the 1980s, when South Florida found itself the new home to large communities of immigrants. McGrorty noted that Congress gave Cubans a path to residency, knowing they may not be able to return to Cuba immediately.
That first wave of immigration enriched the community, Wenski said, and this is a chance to show the rest of the country. McGrorty said every member of the South Florida congressional delegation is sponsoring legislation.
“I think we can tell people there’s nothing to fear about immigrants,” Wenski said.
He said that as we enter Thanksgiving, people should reflect on what they’ve received from God and what they’ve received from each other. Much of the food on our tables will have been cultivated and harvested by immigrants, he said.
“Thanksgiving is a holiday that has its roots in immigration,” he said. “As we give thanks, we’re not the self-made people we think we are.”