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BRAINTREE -- A delegation of 11 children of Temporary Protected Status holders, including five from the Boston Archdiocese, traveled to the Vatican to petition Pope Francis for his support in protecting their parents from deportation.
Temporary Protected Status (TPS) allows immigrants to legally live and work in the United States if extreme circumstances such as war or natural disasters prevent them from returning safely to their home countries. TPS can be renewed, and when it is renewed many times, TPS holders can stay for decades, put down roots, have families and careers.
Earlier this month, a U.S. District Court judge issued a ruling that temporarily blocks the Trump administration's cancellation of TPS for those from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti and Sudan. If it is canceled, TPS holders would have to leave the U.S. at some point in the next year -- the expiration dates vary by country, starting with Sudan in November 2018.
Jose Palma, a Salvadoran with TPS, is the coordinator of the Massachusetts TPS Committee. Speaking to The Pilot Oct. 12, Palma said the committee is looking for support from different areas of society, including religious groups. Since many TPS holders and their families are Catholic, they thought it would be a good idea to appeal to Pope Francis.
"We hope that Pope Francis will recognize the looming deportation of hundreds of thousands of El Salvadorians, Haitians, Hondurans, Nepalese and others who have been in this county for 20 years or more as a humanitarian crisis. Many of the El Salvadorian TPS holders are also active Catholics and their children, who are all U.S. citizens, also are active in Church activities," Palma said in a press release from the Massachusetts TPS Committee.
Since TPS holders cannot travel abroad, the committee decided to send a delegation of their children, who are U.S. citizens, to the Vatican. The Massachusetts TPS Committee worked with the National TPS Alliance to organize the trip.
"We feel that sending a delegation of our kids was going to be as effective as if we were there, because they are also feeling the pain, and they are also worried about what's going to happen in the future with them and with their family," Palma said.
The five delegates from the Boston Archdiocese included Jose Palma's son, Kevin Palma, 17, along with Joseph Urias, 12, and three sisters, Jacqueline Landaverde, 17, Lisbeth Landaverde, 16, and Francisca Landaverde, 14.
"We're all in this with our parents. We do everything for them because we don't want to see them leave," Jacqueline Landaverde said Oct. 16.
The Landaverde sisters' parents are both TPS holders from El Salvador who have lived in the U.S. for over 20 years. If their parents are deported next year, Jacqueline Landaverde said, she may have to take care of her three younger sisters.
"I just feel confused as to why the Trump administration would do this to their own citizens because we have our right to have our parents with us," she said.
The delegation spent a week in Italy and met Pope Francis during his general audience on Oct. 10.
"I never imagined that he would receive us the way he did, because you expect someone who has a really high position try to have more protocol. He doesn't. When he saw the group of kids, he ran right to them," said Ana Alonzo, a chaperone of the delegation.
The children presented Pope Francis with a picture of Oscar Romero and a T-shirt listing the 13 TPS countries. When they explained that they were there to represent their parents, the pope encouraged them to "Keep fighting," and reminded them that migration is a human right.
They also gave Pope Francis a letter asking him to declare a day of prayer for TPS recipients, urge American bishops to support the TPS community, and join the children of TPS recipients when they ask Congress to pass legislation to protect their families.
"The thing that stuck in our minds was the fact that he said, 'To migrate is a human right that no one can take it away from you,'" Jacqueline Landaverde said.
Lisbeth Landaverde was using crutches due to a soccer injury. Pope Francis asked if she played soccer, a popular sport in his home country Argentina, and they chatted about the sport.
"He knows how to communicate with kids," Alonzo said, recalling the way he joked and laughed with them.
She added, "I think that was one of the memories that I'm going to keep in my mind forever."
The delegation attended the Oct. 14 canonization of Oscar Romero, Pope Paul VI, and five other candidates for sainthood.
Alonzo and the delegates met many Salvadorans who had come for the canonization, including Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez, bishop of San Salvador, where St. Oscar Romero was archbishop. Shortly after meeting him, they also encountered Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley, who invited them to a Mass he was celebrating that night.
"Being there for the canonization was a beautiful moment," Jacqueline Landaverde told the Pilot.
She said "hearing the biography of each saint, hearing how they impacted this world" was "beautiful" and "touching."
Now that their mission to meet the pope has been accomplished, "The National TPS Alliance is going to be in touch with his staff to see how the petition from us is working," Alonzo said.
She noted that they could have sent the letter to him by mail or through Cardinal O'Malley, but they wanted him to see the faces of the people who had signed it, the children of the families that would be impacted by the decision regarding TPS.
"Our visit was really successful, but now is the follow-up," Alonzo said.