Opinion: As Christians, let’s support permanent homes for Temporary Protected Status immigrants – Houston Chronicle

Supporters of temporary protected status immigrants hold signs and cheer at a rally before a news conference announcing a lawsuit against the Trump administration over its decision to end a program that lets immigrants live and work legally in the United States outside of a federal courthouse in San Francisco, Monday, March 12, 2018. Plaintiffs alleged the decision to end temporary protected status for El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan was racially motivated. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
The Bible enjoins Christians repeatedly to welcome and tend to migrants and the vulnerable among us. In Romans, we are told true Christians “seek to show hospitality” and “live peaceably with all.” In Hebrews, we are instructed “to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Whether or not they have been angels, it has certainly been the experience of our congregations, South Main Baptist Church and Houston First Church of the Nazarene, that the immigrants we have welcomed have been a blessing to our communities.
It is with this knowledge and faith in the power of God’s love that we watch the ongoing crises impacting Haitians in anguish.
We see caravans of Haitians making the dangerous trek to the U.S.-Mexico border, makeshift camps packed with thousands of migrants and we see people desperate for a better life. Simultaneously, we watch the country of Haiti continue to suffer the effects of an August earthquake and Tropical Storm Grace which compounded the political instability associated with the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in the month prior. The recent kidnapping of American missionaries has only brought to many Americans’ awareness the horrifying commonness of abduction that keeps many Haitians living in fear.
Given these events, Haitians who have been living “temporarily” in the U.S. since receiving Temporary Protected Status after the 2010 earthquake have little prospect of returning home safely anytime soon. TPS was established under President George H.W. Bush in 1990 to allow migrants already in the country to stay in the U.S. legally due to ongoing conditions that prevent their home countries from safely handling their return. Usually granted following a natural disaster, civil or political unrest, TPS was designed to be temporary, but since the situations in Haiti and several other countries show no signs of improvement, we need a permanent solution for these families who have called the United States home for over a decade.
Our TPS friends, family members and neighbors are an integral part of Houston’s diverse community and an essential part of our thriving economy. We have the capacity and capability to extend our arms wide to these TPS recipients by giving them a pathway to make Houston their permanent home.
Long-term TPS recipients need a permanent legal solution that accounts for their contributions to the American dream. Texas is home to 41,945 TPS recipients. According to the Congressional Research Service, that’s the country’s third-highest number of TPS recipients per state.
These TPS recipients aren’t just a part of our local communities; they are major drivers of our economic prosperity. TPS recipients from El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti alone contribute $4.5 billion annually to our nation’s GDP and millions more to our nation’s Social Security and Medicare systems.
One of us, Andrea, was just 5 years old when her family received TPS. Their home country of El Salvador had been ravaged by a civil war and a series of natural disasters. Her parents arrived in America and put down roots: they paid taxes, owned a home and made a living in their community as a health care worker and a pastor.
With his Jan. 8, 2018, decision to end TPS designation for those from El Salvador, former President Donald Trump threw Andrea’s family into darkness, grief and insecurity. Her sister, then 12 years old, woke up every day wondering whether she would be forcibly separated from her parents. Her parents went to sleep wondering whether they’d be required to abandon the employers and communities to which they had so long been loyal.
Why would we want TPS recipients to live with an uncertain legal status, when they have proven over and over again their worth in our communities? Over 130,000 TPS recipients are essential workers who have taught in our schools and worked in our clinics and nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Others play a vital role in our construction and service industries and child care services. These industries are the backbone of American society. Shouldn’t we give the TPS recipients who work in them the support they need?
Congress can act and preserve this essential part of what makes Houston and our communities so vibrant. As evangelical leaders, we encourage Christians, in particular, to contact their senators and ask them to support a path to permanent residency. TPS recipients are more than just contributing members of our society; they are also our neighbors, many are members of Houston’s diverse church community, and throughout the Bible, God calls upon his people to love, welcome and seek justice for vulnerable foreigners.
Additionally, we ask Sen. John Cornyn, the ranking member of the Senate’s immigration subcommittee, to be part of crafting a bipartisan permanent legislative solution for TPS recipients to be allowed to finally move past the “temporary” label.
Even though TPS recipients form families, join our faith communities, work in essential American industries and pay taxes, at present they have no pathway to permanent legal residence. Even after residing lawfully in the U.S. for decades, they are constantly stuck in a “temporary” status. This well-intentioned program has become inadequate as a response to the instability of the world in which we live.
The Bible tells us that when Christ judges the nations, he will look to whether they have given drink to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, shelter to the homeless and welcome to the stranger, because in doing so to one of “the least of these” we do so to Christ himself.
Despite our biblical calling to support them and their contributions to our communities, TPS recipients’ ability to live full and flourishing lives rests on the whims of the current occupant of the White House. Every 18 months, thousands of TPS recipients anxiously await word on whether their ability to work, drive their kids to school, plan family vacations and plan for the future — in the country that has been their home for dozens of years — will suddenly end.
This is an unsustainable life. They deserve better. As their neighbors and as Christians, we should do better by them.
Wells serves as pastor of South Main Baptist Church in Houston. Castaneda-Lauver is the daughter of TPS recipients and the co-youth pastor at Houston First Church of the Nazarene.
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