Karol Bedoya of Morris Township owns a home, pays taxes, and has two children who are U.S. citizens in the school system.
By this time next year, she fears, the Trump administration will have sent her back to her native Honduras–one of the world’s most dangerous countries.
“Every day, it’s like a timer is ticking” louder and louder, she said on Friday at St. Margaret’s Church in Morristown, where clergy and local leaders listened to stories from anxious immigrants like Bedoya who are caught in a political crossfire.
They have built lives for themselves under a humanitarian federal program called Temporary Protected Status. Since 1990, the U.S. has granted TPS to immigrants from 10 countries devastated by wars or natural disasters.
Every 18 months, the government has renewed this status for immigrants who satisfy certain criteria. It enables them to get work permits and driver’s licenses, but affords them no other benefits, nor does it offer any path to citizenship.
Critics say TPS never was intended to be permanent. This month the Department of Homeland Security revoked this status for about 2,500 Nicaraguans–living here since Hurricane Mitch struck Central America in 1998–giving them until January 2019 to leave the U.S.
Protected status for about 57,000 Hondurans has been extended into mid-2018, when Homeland Security will decide whether they, too, must pack their bags. The acting DHS director resisted White House pressure to expel the Hondurans, The Washington Post reported. Nearly 200,000 Salvadoran immigrants, meanwhile, are bracing for a decision in January.
Groups such as Morristown’s Wind of the Spirit Immigrant Resource Center, organizer of Friday’s press event, support legislation by Rep. Nydia Velasquez of New York to grant permanent residence to TPS immigrants who qualify. The American Promise Act would give them three years to adjust their status.
Without such legislation, people like Bedoya and Jessika Giron of Dover soon may face gut-wrenching choices: Do they leave their U.S.-born children behind, or expose them to peril from drug gangs in Honduras, where the murder rate is five times higher than Chicago’s, according to The Telegraph of London.
“With one of the highest murder rates in the world and criminals operating with a high degree of impunity, U.S. citizens are reminded to remain alert at all times when traveling in Honduras,” advises a travel warning from the State Department.
“Many Christians were thrown to the lions in Rome. And by a government removing TPS for our people, it would be like throwing them into the lions. The wild beasts in Honduras, sad to say, are human beings,” said the Rev. Hernan Arias, pastor of St. Margaret’s.
Giron earned a business degree, became a CPA, started a business and bought a home during her 20 years in Morris County.
“We know personally the evil of organized violence in Honduras,” said Giron, whose family was held at gunpoint for seven hours in an “express kidnapping” and robbed while visiting four years ago.
Her son, a Dover High School student and U.S. citizen, never wants to set foot in that country again, she said.
Sonia Yanes cannot imagine returning, either. She earned a master’s degree here, works as a data manager for a pharma company, and said she pays $15,000 a year in taxes on two homes she owns in Dover.
When Yanes was granted TPS, “I felt like I was receiving wings to fly high… Everything I have, I achieved in this great country,” Yanes said.
If sent back to Honduras, she said, she no longer could support her son’s college education.
‘NOT WHAT THIS COUNTRY IS ABOUT’
“Separating families is not what this country is about,” said Dover Mayor James Dodd, the grandson of Italian immigrants.
The Rev. Isvaldo Jimenez, pastor of Morristown’s First Baptist Church, fled Communist rule in Cuba in 1980. It’s unwise to “persecute good people,” he said.
TPS beneficiaries are important to the U.S. economy, according to Brian Lozano and Karol Ruiz of Wind of the Spirit. Approximately 88 percent of them participate in the labor force, 11 percent are self-employed and 30 percent have mortgages.
They undergo security screenings every 18 months when they re-register with the government. Money they send to families in their native countries prevents further destabilization there, Lozano maintains.
Retraining new workers to replace TPS holders would cost U.S. employers nearly $1 billion, while deportation would cost taxpayers $3 billion, Wind of the Spirit contends.
“I have never in my entire life seen our country act this way. And it must stop,” said Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty, who suggested that finding ways to keep productive, TPS beneficiaries in the U.S. could lead to solutions “to start fixing immigration.”
The best way to stop President Trump and his supporters in Congress, Dougherty added, “is to vote every one of them out of office.”
For TPS holders, that’s not an option. They cannot vote.