US & World

Catholic Church uses outreach to help LA Salvadorans with immigration

María Mercedes López Peña, El Salvador's Consul General for Los Angeles, is working with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to get legal aid to Salvadorans losing temporary permission to stay in the U.S.
María Mercedes López Peña, El Salvador's Consul General for Los Angeles, is working with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to get legal aid to Salvadorans losing temporary permission to stay in the U.S.
Josie Huang/KPCC

Catholic leaders in Los Angeles are stepping up to offer legal aid to tens of thousands of Salvadorans in Southern California who will no longer be allowed to live legally in the U.S. after 2019.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles announced it would bring lawyers to area churches to help Salvadorans who are losing the temporary permission they received to stay in the U.S. after a series of earthquakes struck their country in 2001.

The Trump administration this month announced it would be revoking Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, for this group of Salvadorans after nearly 20 years of extending permission for them to stay.

The El Salvadoran Consulate General in Los Angeles estimates that rolling back this program will affect 45,000 Salvadorans in Southern California — and a total of 60,000 statewide.

Half of El Salvador is estimated to be Catholic, and Isaac Cuevas, who works on immigration issues for the Archdiocese said he expects churches will have the reach to inform members of their rights, and what steps they can take to stay in the country.  Workshops will be held at churches with large Salvadoran populations near downtown, the San Fernando Valley and the Palmdale-Lancaster area, he said.

"The church plays a tremendous role in their lives," Cuevas said of the Salvadorans. "It’s their core faith and it’s a place that they trust."

El Salvadoran Consul General María Mercedes López Peña said the consulate will help promote the Catholic church workshops. She also plans to send staff to Catholic and other places of worship in the coming weeks to provide legal aid.

"It's a very important way for us to provide information for our community because many Salvadorans go to churches on Sundays or during the week,"  López Peña said. 

López Peña said she was pleased that Catholic Charities, which serves people in need, would start to provide walk-in visits for TPS recipients requiring legal advice on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She said this will cover the days that the consulate does not offer legal aid. 

Tomás Guerrero, who is covered by TPS and is hoping to stay permanently in the U.S., said some others in his same position don't understand that they have to apply one more time to stay in the U.S. until the TPS program expires. They have only 60 days to do it. 

Guerrero, who is Catholic, said churches could help many get their immigration papers in order.  

"The best idea is to make some flyers so they know they have to apply for (the TPS extension), and put it in the church," Guerrero said. 

Josie Huang covers religion, international affairs and the Southern California diaspora under a grant from the Luce Foundation.