Chair, Committee on Migration
National Conference of Catholic Bishops
The devastation wrought by Hurricane Mitch in Central America has been well documented. Thousands in the region have been killed from the storm and its aftermath, while millions have either been left homeless or displaced. Countries and private organizations from around the world, including the Catholic Church, have worked in the past few months to start rebuilding the infrastructure of the countries affected by Hurricane Mitch, and to raise and direct humanitarian assistance to victims of this unprecedented disaster.
The announcement by the U.S. government that Honduras and Nicaragua, the two countries most affected by Hurricane Mitch, have been designated Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is a welcome one. We applaud this humanitarian decision. It is apparent that forcing the nationals of those countries presently in the U.S. to return home at this time would only exacerbate the difficult conditions there. The Administration has chosen a wise course by designating TPS for these two countries because it allows nationals to continue to work in the U.S. and send remittances (dollars earned from employment in the U.S.) back to their families in their destroyed homelands. Remittances from nationals residing in the U.S. far exceed annually U.S. foreign aid or disaster relief combined, and are considered efficient because private individuals place private money into the hands of family members in the region.
However, the U.S. has chosen not to designate El Salvador and Guatemala, two poor, small countries also affected by Hurricane Mitch, with Temporary Protected Status. Although these two countries sustained less damage than Honduras or Nicaragua, we believe the decision not to designate TPS for El Salvador and Guatemala is unfortunate. The effect of Mitch was regional, and calls for a regional response.
According to statistics compiled by the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), hundreds of persons are dead or missing in those two countries, with hundreds of roads and bridges damaged or destroyed. Thousands of houses have been destroyed, while agricultural crops have been damaged. In Guatemala alone, 95 percent of the nation's banana crop was damaged, 25-60 percent of the corn, bean, coffee, and sugar crops were destroyed, and 30 percent of the cattle herd was lost.
The stay of deportation granted to Salvadoran and Guatemalan nationals in the U.S., while temporarily preventing deportation back to their homeland, does not authorize nationals to work in the U.S., and precludes the flow of remittances home to help rebuild El Salvador and Guatemala. We urge the Administration to reconsider this decision, or to seek other avenues which allow Salvadorans and Guatemalans nationals in the U.S. to work and assist their families back home.
Contact: Kevin Appleby, Director of Migration and Refugee Policy, 202-541-3260