To 12-year-old Joseph Urias, flying across the ocean to visit the Vatican with a delegation of young people felt like a mission. Their task? To ask the Pope for help so their parents don’t get deported.
Urias was one of five students from the Boston area that joined the group organized by the National TPS Alliance and the Massachusetts TPS Committee. Most of the kids had never traveled outside the United States, let alone on a plane, when they left Oct. 7.
They’re all American citizens, the sons and daughters of undocumented immigrants from El Salvador who’ve lived in the country legally with TPS, or Temporary Protected Status, a humanitarian designation that protects noncitizens from deportation when they are unable to return to their countries because of war or natural disaster. Their parents are at risk of deportation if the Trump administration rescinds the TPS designation for certain countries.
This month, a federal court judge issued a preliminary injunction temporarily blocking the administration from terminating TPS for immigrants from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti, and Sudan. The decision maintains the legal status of more than 300,000 immigrants. The Justice Department is appealing the ruling.
“Many of us with TPS are active members of the Catholic Church,” said Jose Palma, a member of the Massachusetts TPS Committee. “We thought, why not ask the leader of our church to unite in solidarity with us?”
On the trip, Urias managed to finish his homework during free moments. Three sisters from Malden prayed together every night before bed as they do back home. All fear losing their parents, who have lived in the United States for years. The majority own homes and businesses.
“I’m a little nervous. [The Pope] is a really important person and he really would help us, and I feel like if I mess one thing up it would be bad and I don’t want to do that,” said Urias, a Malden seventh grader, before he left. “This is where I was born and this is my country, and I don’t want to go somewhere else that I’ve never been to.”
The group met Pope Francis Oct. 10 outside Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican after he spoke on Wednesday. He listened to their story, accepted a T-shirt and a letter, and told the group to keep fighting.
“To migrate is a human right, is that clear?” Francis said to the group in a video of the meeting. “And no one can prevent that. Never forget.”
Mission completed, the kids woke up at 5 a.m. on Sunday to await the canonization ceremony of Óscar Romero, the fourth Archbishop of San Salvador and El Salvador’s first saint. Romero was assassinated in 1980 and remembered as a voice for the voiceless, speaking out against social injustice and poverty, and promoting human rights.
The students hope is that Pope Francis will read their letter and join them in the spring when they travel to Washington, D.C., to convince Congress to find their parents a path to permanent residency.
“In these hard times we need people with a voice like the Pope’s on our side,” said Francisca Landaverde, 14. “I know if he’s with us we’re going to win.”
Upon their return Monday night, the group was hailed as heroes. Their families gathered together at the Pollo Royal in Revere where they shared stories over pupusas and chicken.
“I’m proud that our young people have the character to speak up about what’s happening to us in the US,” said Berlinda Landaverde, who has TPS. Her three daughters visited the Vatican.
“They’re American Citizens,” she said. “They can speak for those of us aren’t being listened to.”