Margarita Cabrera was forced to flee from her home country, Honduras, when it was devastated in 1988 by Hurricane Gilbert. Cabrera says, “I came [to the U.S.] in 1988. I came with the vision of having a better [life] and helping my family.”
Since she was 24 years old, Cabrera has been living and working legally in New York City because of her Temporary Protected Status, also known as TPS. Mennonite Central Committee (MCC)’s immigration office in New York City has been walking alongside Cabrera and other TPS recipients over the years, guiding these individuals on a legal path to stay and work in the U.S.
MCC photo/Gregoria Flores-Nuñez
Temporary Protected Status (TPS) allows individuals from certain TPS-designated countries to remain in the U.S. if it is unsafe for them to return to their home country due to a humanitarian emergency. Many TPS recipients, like Cabrera, have fled their countries due to armed conflicts or natural disasters in their native countries and found refuge in the U.S.
Approximately 300,000-400,000 TPS recipients are currently living in the U.S., with the majority from El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti. Other countries designated for TPS include Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
TPS grants recipients the ability to work legally in the U.S., and it protects them from deportation. Gregoria Flores-Nuñez, immigration intake assistant and church liaison for MCC East Coast, says, “With TPS you can start your own business, study, buy a house and have other rights that citizens of a country are granted [by the U.S. government].”
Each country designated for TPS has a different expiration date. Current terminations will affect TPS holders from Haiti in July 2019 and Salvadorans in September 2019. When TPS for a designated country expires, TPS recipients from that country can be deported and forced to leave behind their businesses, their U.S.-born children, and the homes that they own.
Tammy Alexander, senior legislative associate for domestic affairs in MCC’s Washington, D.C. Office, says, “Many TPS recipients have been in the U.S. for 15-20 years. In that time, people put down strong roots in their new communities. People marry. Children grow up. It will be very difficult for many TPS holders to pull up those roots and leave their home – and in some cases, their family.”
Assuming no other change in immigration policy, the only known way that TPS recipients can stay in the U.S. is if the federal government decides to renew TPS status for their countries.
Cabrera lives in gratitude to God for the opportunity to work peacefully here in the U.S. She is now 54 years old and her TPS status has allowed her to find, and keep, her job as community social outreach coordinator of the St. Luke’s Catholic Church in Bronx, NY. She also serves in the parish as director of the food pantry. She has held her position there for twenty years.
Even as Cabrera has found a peaceful life and stable work here in the U.S., many TPS recipients’ futures are uncertain. “They will renew our TPS for 6 months, and after those 6 months they [might] give a provisional residency, or there will be another path to choose,” says Cabrera.
But what will that path be? And will there be a path at all? The current U.S. administration has indicated there will be no more renewals for El Salvador, Haiti and Nicaragua and other countries may follow. TPS termination likely means leaving everything behind.
Many mothers and fathers with TPS face difficult decisions, such as, 'Who do I leave my children with? How do I leave without losing my assets/property in the U.S.? How can I guarantee security for myself and rebuild my life when I return?'
- Gregoria Flores-Nuñez
In the face of TPS terminations, MCC continues to advocate and educate surrounding the topic of immigrants’ rights. Those with TPS, like Cabrera, have found invaluable support and information through New York Mennonite Immigration Program (NYMIP), a partnership of MCC and the New York City Council of Mennonite Churches. NYMIP provides direct immigration services to immigrant communities throughout the five boroughs of New York City with offices in the Bronx and Brooklyn.
Where there is often confusion about U.S. immigration policies, the NYMIP’s Pathways to Dignity program holds bimonthly “Know Your Rights” workshops that provide immigrants, especially TPS recipients, with up to date and credible information about current U.S. immigration policy.
MCC photo/Laura Pauls-Thomas
Hyacinth Stevens, New York program coordinator for MCC East Coast, says, “The purpose of Pathways to Dignity is really to be on the cutting edge of things that happen in federal policy that immediately affect people at a grassroots level.”
She continues, “Pathways to Dignity is a space where we give dignity to people in their [legal] process, where they have a space to ask questions and be respectfully responded to. If you go into a situation knowing the facts and knowing your options, that gives you dignity.”
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
Do you feel called to advocate for the rights of individuals with Temporary Protected Status (TPS), like Margarita Cabrera?
- Contact your members of Congress and urge them to pass legislation protecting current TPS recipients.
- Consider writing “Letters to the Editor” in your local newspaper.
- Attend public forums and meetings on the topics of TPS and immigration policy.
- Prod candidates about this issue at town halls and other events leading up to elections in November.
In New York City, Miami and other places around the U.S., MCC works with Anabaptist churches to provide direct services, education and advocacy related to immigration. In both East Coast locations, counselors meet with clients by appointment only. Please contact our offices to schedule an appointment.
New York City (NYMIP.org)
- Hyacinth Stevens, New York program coordinator, MCC East Coast
- (917) 572-5110
- Andrew Bodden, program director, MCC East Coast
- (305) 249-3477
For more information on MCC’s immigration work, visit mcc.org/immigration.