South Florida beneficiaries of a program that has protected more than 300,000 immigrants are bracing for the division of their families when the protection expires.
And activists say their fears have been heightened after watching the federal government's separation of migrant families who have crossed the Mexico border illegally.
The Trump administration announced last year that it's ending Temporary Protected Status for Hondurans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Salvadorans. The program has shielded them from deportation.
Now, TPS holders fear they will be split from their U.S.-born children if forced to return to their home countries.
"We might risk watching babies separated from their families again. Babies and children crying for their parents," said Marleine Bastien, executive director of the Family Action Network Movement, at a community forum at Friday at the Little Haiti Culture Center. The event was meant to strategize about how TPS recipients can keep their families together.
The TPS program was established to protect immigrants fleeing humanitarian disasters in their home countries. Recipients called for an extension of TPS citing continuing insecurity, but the Trump administration said the program was no longer necessary because Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador have since stabilized.
More than 270,000 children have been born in the U.S. to TPS recipients in the last 30 years, according to the Center for Migration Studies. Now parents are facing a decision of whether to return to their home countries with their American-born children, leave them the children with relatives or guardians, or remain in the country illegally and risk deportation.
"Just as we were revolted at the sight of family break-ups at the border—and that only involved a number of several thousand people who had just been in this country a few days—imagine what would happen if these TPS recipients were obliged to leave this country and we'd have further break-up of families," Thomas Wenski, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of the Diocese of Miami said at the forum Friday.
More than 100 people including TPS recipients and their children attended the event. Lawyers and community leaders discussed how holders can pressure the Trump administration to keep their families together.
Bastien said one strategy involves lobbying lawmakers in Washington to pass an immigration reform bill that protects TPS beneficiaries.
"We've had rallies. We've had letter-writing. We've gathered stories of TPS recipients," she said. She noted that leaving their children behind in the U.S. is not an option for families she's spoken with.
Ronyde Christina Ponthieux, 11, is the U.S-born daughter of two TPS holders from Haiti. She said her parents have not decided what they will do if forced to leave the country.
"For now," she said, "we're just trying to keep fighting because maybe there's a chance we can probably stay."