Catholics urged to appeal to lawmakers in Congress to pass DACA bill now

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA

By Julie Asher

WASHINGTON (CNS) — By day’s end Feb. 15, members of the U.S. Senate had rejected four immigration proposals,
leaving it unclear how lawmakers will address overall immigration reform and keep the
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in place.

Late that afternoon, Archbishop
John C. Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico, issued an urgent alert to Catholics in
his archdiocese to raise their voices “to support the ‘Dreamers'” and contact
their senators and representatives to vote for a bipartisan measure to preserve
the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which is set to expire March 5.

“Time is running out for them,”
he said in a statement. “Congress must pass bipartisan legislation that would
provide urgently needed relief for Dreamers.”

Needing 60 votes for Senate
passage, a bipartisan measure that included a path to citizenship for an
estimated 1.8 million Dreamers — those eligible for DACA — and
$25 billion for a border wall failed by six votes. The final vote was 54-45. A bill the Trump administration was supporting was defeated 39 to 60. Two
other bills also failed.

The U.S. House was pressing on with its own bill, which by mid-day Feb. 16 was not
yet up for a floor vote. Described as “hard line” by opponents, it includes
keeping DACA in place, funding a border wall, ending the Diversity Immigrant
Visa program, limiting family-based visas, requiring employers to verify job
applicants’ immigration status and withholding federal grants from so-called
“sanctuary” cities.

“As Catholics, we believe the
dignity of every human being, particularly that of our immigrant and refugee
children and youth, must be protected,” Archbishop Wester said in his statement.
“The sanctity of families must be upheld. The Catholic bishops have long
supported undocumented youth brought to the United States by their parents,
known as Dreamers, and continue to do so.”

Other Catholic leaders expressed
decried lawmakers’ failure to provide protections for DACA recipients.

Dominican Sister Donna Markham,
president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, called it “deeply heartbreaking.”

“While thankful for the
bipartisan majority support for protecting DACA youth, it is unconscionable
that nearly 800,000 will continue to live in fear and uncertainty,” she said
Feb. 15.

“As it has for more than 100
years, Catholic Charities will continue to stand with and advocate on behalf of
migrants and others in need. Not because they are migrants but because they are
children of God,” she said.

Holy Cross Father John I.
Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, echoed that
disappointment, saying: “These young women and men have done nothing wrong and
have known life only in the United States. The Dreamers who are enrolled at
Notre Dame are also poised to make lasting contributions to the United States.

“We pray that our leaders will
end the cruel uncertainty for these talented and dedicated young people who
have so much to offer our nation,” he said. “Regardless, Notre Dame will
continue to support them financially, maintain their enrollment, provide expert
legal assistance should that become necessary and do everything it can to
support them.”

The U.S. Catholic bishops individually
and as a body have been urging Congress to protect DACA since September, when
President Donald Trump announced he was ending the Obama-era program and told
Congress to come up with a legislative fix.

Since 2012, DACA has allowed some
individuals brought as minors to the United States by their parents without
legal permission to receive a renewable two-year period of protection from
deportation and to be eligible for a work permit. As of 2017, approximately
800,000 individuals had DACA status.

Since Trump rescinded the
program, many immigration advocates have urged members of Congress to pass the
Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, which has
long been proposed. The bill is what gives DACA recipients the
“Dreamer” name.

In Arizona in late January, Bishop
Edward J. Weisenburger of Tucson and his predecessor, now-retired Bishop Gerald
F. Kicanas, urged passage of a “clean” bill, like the DREAM Act, to preserve DACA.
Their commentary was posted on the diocesan Facebook page.

“While all would agree that
reasonable border protection is needed and while clearly countries have a right
to protect their borders, it is wrong to barter the lives of these young people
by making their protection contingent on a wall or stringent border protection
that is unreasonable and a waste of taxpayer’s money. Congress should pass the
DREAM Act as a stand-alone bill,” they said.

“We are at a moment in our
nation’s history that could define who we are as a people. Traditional American
values of fairness and compassion are in conflict,” they wrote. “This is a
situation that is a moral test for our society; we must not fail.”

In a Feb. 2 letter to Arkansas’
senators and representatives in Congress, Bishop Anthony B. Taylor called for grass-roots
bipartisan support for “a just and humane solution for the Dreamers whose fate
is in your hands.” He, too, urged they pass a narrowly focused bill to save

“If enough members of Congress
commit to focusing on a narrowly-tailored bipartisan solution, DACA-only
legislation is possible (to) provide urgently needed relief for Dreamers,” he
wrote. “They and their families who have worked hard and made valuable
contributions to our country deserve certainty and compassion. Dreamers should
not be used as a political bargaining chip for other legislative proposals.”

In a Feb. 2 op-ed in the Daily
News, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, New York, struck the same tone, predicting that if Congress tied the fate of these young people to a broader immigration
reform measure backed by Trump, it would be “a recipe for getting nothing done,
at least in the short term.”

are times that our elected leaders must act because it is the right thing to do
as human beings. This is one of those times,” he said. “If the Dreamers are
left unprotected, it will leave a stain on our nation’s character for years to
come. If we pursue justice and welcome them as full Americans, it would be one
of our finest hours.”


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