South Florida's top Roman Catholic leader called on Congress to create a path to citizenship for Haitians who moved to the U.S. after the devastating 2010 earthquake.
Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski said federal lawmakers have a "moral obligation" to act before July 2019, when Haitian storm refugees' Temporary Protected Status will expire. The Trump administration announced Monday its plans to end the program, known as TPS, which has allowed tens of thousands of Haitians to live here since the natural disaster without fear of deportation. Miami has one of the largest Haitian communities in the U.S.
For many, "going back to Haiti is really not an option,” Wenski said Wednesday during a press conference at the Pastoral Center of the Archdiocese of Miami.
By offering TPS to Haitians, U.S. officials acknowledged conditions in the island nation were not suitable for them to return. The program allowed them to stay here until the situation improved.
Federal officials say that time has come. Wenski disagrees. He said he has spoken to people who live in Haiti, and they've assured him things are not back to normal yet.
Even if conditions do get better, there’s nothing for many Haitians to go back to, he said.
“If you’re in the United States for eight years, you’re making your home here, and whatever you had there recedes further and further into the background,” he said.
He added many Haitians here under TPS now have children who were born in the U.S., and ending the program without a suitable replacement will split families apart.
“After many years in this country, people naturally integrate," he said. "People become Americanized. They have kids here who are American."
Wenski says Congress has plenty of time in the next 18 months to come up with a permanent solution that will create help Haitians gain citizenship.