A woman fled El Salvador in fear of violence, just months before a deadly series of earthquakes destroyed many Salvadorans’ lives and homes. She settled in Maryland with her husband’s family and started to build a life. She worked first in hotel housekeeping, then as a teaching assistant at a neighborhood school. She had four children, who excelled in school. She invested deeply in her local Catholic church, serving as a catechist and usher, working with kids on Sunday mornings, and hosting a small prayer group in her home.
Now, after nearly two decades in the United States, the Trump administration may be sending her back to El Salvador, a country that still suffers from one of the world’s highest homicide rates, destabilizing gang activity, and a stalled economy. Many immigration advocates have pushed back on the decision, but perhaps none more strongly than the U.S. Catholic Church. Catholic leaders see these deportations not as a left-right political issue, but as threat to the families that make up the heart of their communities. As one local priest told me, “I see it as an assault on the body of the Church.”
The woman described above—whom I spoke with through a translator, and who asked that her name be withheld out of concern for her safety—is one of nearly 200,000 Salvadorans in the U.S. who, until recently, had Temporary Protected Status, known as TPS. This federal program, created under George H. W. Bush, shields immigrants who cannot return to their home countries for safety reasons. In early January, the Trump administration revoked TPS for Salvadorans, who composed the majority of TPS recipients. In November, it did the same for Haitians who came to the U.S. after a massive earthquake in 2010. Immigration advocates fear it may soon end protections for Hondurans, another large TPS population, as well.