By Michidael Ceard and Johania Charles
Since the announcement of the elimination of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and the possibility of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement raids (back on July 14th of this year) there has been a decrease in Catholic mass attendance in Miami because Haitians are now afraid to congregate in public.
“All of God’s children should feel at home,” said Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski while on his mission for the Archdiocese of Miami.
Among the groups in need of stable homes is the Haitian people who struggle with the limitations of immigration statuses such as TPS.
According to information provided by the Department of Homeland Security, 46,000 Haitian immigrants are protected under TPS and most of these people reside in South Florida.
TPS is a disposition granted by the Department of Homeland Security to foreign born immigrants who are unable to return to their home abroad due to life-threatening circumstances such as natural disasters and political strife.
Haitians were granted protection under TPS after the 2010 earthquake nine years ago due to the difficult circumstances that arose from broken political systems as well as lack of preparation for disaster relief and aid. However, protection under this policy holds true to the name of being temporary and the removal of TPS has become a possible reality for the Haitian population in Miami.
As an advocate for the Haitian population in South Florida, Wenski explains that the Catholic Church has a responsibility in helping TPS holders during this time of uncertainty.
“The church [should] be visible to the Haitians and…the Haitians visible to the Church,” he said.
With love being at the core of the Catholic faith, there’s been a movement to get different ministries of the Church in South Florida aligned to help the Haitian people.
Here at Barry, (just about three miles from Little Haiti) a number of students and staff are of Haitian descent and can be gravely affected if the decision to eliminate TPS is successful.
“I have so much love for my people and culture and to know that people wouldn’t have the chance to live a better life than they would’ve in Haiti, is devastating,” said Karen Lyron, current president of the Haitian student organization at Barry. “A lot of my church members may be affected and separated from their families.''
Whether it’s seeking comfort through campus ministry or churches in the area, the church is a place of refuge for many of these people.
Notre Dame d’Haiti Catholic church, for example, is located in the heart of Little Haiti and stands as a beacon of hope for the 13,000 Haitians affected by the TPS crisis.
Father Reginald Jean Mary, the current pastor of the church, has been advocating for the renewal of TPS through partnering with grassroots organizations such as the Family Action Network Movement (FANM), Catholic legal services and have even worked in conjunction with Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moïse.
To provide emotional and spiritual support, Notre Dame d’Haiti offers mass dedicated to praying for the renewal of TPS.
Father Reginald believes that family is one thing very near and dear to the Catholic church. Because of this, he makes an effort to educate the Haitian community on their rights and how to protect themselves.
“The extension [of TPS] gives families the opportunity to stay together…every child of God has the right to live where God takes them,” he said.
Considering the current political and environmental state of Haiti, they would be forced to return to a country where a gang culture continues to terrorize its residents, people cannot work and inflation is at an all-time high.
“The biggest problem is sending parents back to a country with no stability and separating them from their children born here,” said Father Reginald. “The crisis [in Haiti] is so deep that it’s something that will take a long time to repair. That gives grounds to the renewal of TPS.”
TPS has helped many families become financially stable by creating the opportunity for them to find jobs legally. It has allowed Haitian families to start over after horrific natural disasters such as the earthquake and even more recently, hurricane Matthew in 2016. It has been the God given hope to them in the form of legal documents.
In the words of Father Reginald— “the greatest action we can take for people affected by TPS is to stand in solidarity. When we recite [the] Our Father [prayer], it means we are brothers and sisters. As disciples of Christ, we must be the voice. It is a call to all people of good faith and good heart.”
In the same vein, Lyron suggested that Barry become aware of the TPS issue to help the Haitian population, both within and outside the university, move forward.
“Once the Barry community is informed, we could find outside resources and organizations that can help us communicate how we feel in regards to the issue as a whole,” the senior majoring in pre-professional biology said.