By Bill Mefford
Advent is the time for followers of Jesus to wait with eager anticipation for the birth of the Messiah. It was during Jesus’ time when his people were in a time of anxiousness, living fearfully from repressive rule, uncertain of their future, yet constantly casting their hope with God. Today, we have sisters and brothers in the United States who are living in fear and uncertainty as well, suffering from a nonresponsive and repressive rule. Like Jesus’ time, immigrants today are living under state-sponsored terror from an administration that is threatening to rip families apart and deport people, some of whom have lived in the US for decades. For many of our immigrant sisters and brothers, the hope of Advent exists only in so far as they know that there are many others who stand in solidarity with them advocating for justice.
What is Temporary Protective Status:
Temporary Protective Status is designated by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State and to qualify one must come from a country that has conditions that “temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely, or, in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately.” Having a TPS designation gives no pathway to citizenship; it simply allows nationals of those countries to live and work in the United States for as long as DHS deems their home countries unsafe to return to.
Currently, more than 300,000 people from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti live in the United States with TPS. They have lived in the United States for an average of 19 years and have high rates of employment. TPS families include nearly 275,000 U.S.-born children. TPS holders are long-time members of our congregations and communities.
TPS holders serve no threat to their communities as they must prove that they have lived continuously in the United States and must undergo an extensive criminal and security background check. TPS holders continue to undergo background checks every six to 18 months and pay substantial fees each time.
If Salvadoran, Honduran, and Haitian workers with TPS were removed from the labor force, the United States would lose $164 billion in gross domestic product (GDP) over the next decade. Furthermore, if TPS holders lost their work authorization, it would result in a $6.9 billion reduction to Social Security and Medicare contributions over a decade.
TPS holders contribute in every way to our communities and congregations.
First Scripture Reading:
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me. God has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion-- to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
For I, the LORD love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the LORD has blessed
-Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-9
Why do Salvadorans need TPS:
Salvadorans were first given TPS in 2001 because of a series of earthquakes which killed over 1,000 people, injured thousands more, and displaced hundreds of thousands. There are close to 200,000 Salvadorans currently in the United States with TPS.
According to Human Rights Watch, and other human rights organizations, El Salvador remains a challenging place to return to. Here are some of the reasons why:
- Violence and crimes, primarily resulting from gang activity, continued to ravage the country, with 3,438 homicides reported in the first six months of 2016. Violence against women and girls by gang members continues.
- In response, the Salvadoran government has tried to stamp down on the violence, but it has succeeded in creating more violence with extrajudicial killings and human rights violations.
- Threats to women’s rights persist. A total ban on abortion remains in place even for cases of rape or where there is a risk to the life of the woman. More than 20 women remain in prison serving lengthy sentences after ending their pregnancies due to pregnancy-related complications or obstetric emergencies.
- Many youth and children have fled El Salvador to seek protection in the United States, most often unaccompanied, so that they will not be recruited into gangs.
- LGBTQ people are frequently targeted for abuse, intimidation and violence because of their sexual orientation and/or their gender identity. In particular, transgender women face tremendous obstacles in seeking protection or justice.
TPS was created to provide protection to those in the United States when it is unsafe for their return home – precisely the conditions El Salvador faces.
Second Scripture Reading:
Then John the Baptist’s father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for God has looked favorably on God’s people and redeemed them.
God has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of God’s servant David,
As God spoke through the mouth of holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus God has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered God’s holy covenant,
the oath given to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
As we wait expectantly for the coming of Jesus we do not wait passively. We wait by working for the justice that he will bring into fullness.
This week we ask you to call your Representative and both of your Senators (202-224-3121) and urge them to urge donald trump to uphold temporary protective status for all Salvadorans.