Rev. Ronald J. Degges: Why My Faith Compels Me To Support Protective Status for Haitians Fleeing Disaster

As a Christian, I’m called by my faith to stand with the vulnerable and love my neighbor. As president of Disciples Home Missions, I am grateful to demonstrate these values in my daily life and weekly ministries throughout the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the U.S.

But it is also because of those values that I am deeply disturbed by recent hateful and xenophobic sentiments espoused by my fellow Christians and Americans. Such sentiment sends an unwelcoming and mean-spirited message of exclusion to refugee families fleeing violence and persecution.

The latest example of this is the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ recommendation to permanently end the Temporary Protected Status for 58,000 Haitians in January 2018, instead of renewing it for another 18 months after it expires in July.

The U.S. has granted TPS to foreign nationals since 1990 as a form of humanitarian relief that permits certain individuals to remain in the U.S. and work when it is unsafe to return home.

These could be people impacted by natural disasters. It could also apply to people who are already in another country when a disaster hits their country of origin. Or it could be people who are then impeded in their ability to return home due to dangerous or life-threatening conditions.

In 2010, a terrible earthquake struck Haiti that caused the deaths of over 100,000 people and destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure. The U.S. granted TPS to 58,000 Haitians to live in safety and rebuild their lives, work and support family members still in Haiti.

Unfortunately, the catastrophic impacts of last year’s Hurricane Matthew impeded Haiti’s recovery. Tens of thousands of homes and schools were destroyed, as well as agricultural crops and livestock, which resulted in widespread food insecurity and exacerbated the cholera epidemic – already the worst in the world.

As the Atlantic hurricane season begins next month, we know the country is not safe for Haitians to return to.

The protected status for Haitians is slated to expire on July 22, and the Department of Homeland Security is currently considering whether to extend it.

To let it expire would be a great loss for our nation. Haitians with TPS work as nurses, business owners and teachers; they buy homes, purchase life and health insurance, raise U.S. citizen children; care for their elderly family members and send money to family back in Haiti.

They have served for years in vibrant ministries across the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and especially in New York, New Jersey, Florida, California, Indiana, Maryland and Connecticut. It has been my great pleasure to join their communities for theological training and worship.

To turn our backs on these vulnerable Haitians we pledged to welcome would place considerable burdens on their country as it struggles to recover. It would put Haitians who previously resided in America at risk for kidnapping, disease and hunger upon their return to their home country.

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SOURCE: Religion News Service – The Rev. Ronald J. Degges is president of the Disciples Home Missions, Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, in the U.S. and Canada