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Catholics turn out to support ‘dreamers’ after DACA rescinded


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Mercy Sister Rita Parks stood near the large crowd in front of the White House that was almost silenced after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced shortly after 11 a.m. on Sept. 5 that the Trump administration was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.

Dafne Jacobs, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient stands with supporters during a rally outside the Federal Building in Los Angeles, Calif., Sept. 1. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Sept. 5 that the DACA program is “being rescinded” by President Donald Trump, leaving some 800,000 youth, brought illegally to the U.S. as minors, in peril of deportation and of losing permits that allow them to work. (CNS photo/Kyle Grillot, Reuters)

“I’m astounded, saddened. I saw their faces, the tears and their dreams shattered,” said Sister Parks, of some of the DACA recipients nearby who were trying to take in the recent news. Many of them, the majority in their 20s, had just heard what they didn’t want to believe: that the program that grants them a work permit and reprieve from deportation, is months away from disappearing.

Some, like Catholic DACA recipient Claudia Quinones, who was in the Washington crowd, had held out hope up until the moment of the announcement that President Donald Trump would make a decision with “heart,” as he had earlier promised regarding the program that allows beneficiaries like her, brought to the U.S. as children without legal documentation, certain protections.

Instead, his attorney general said that by giving job permits to DACA recipients, jobs were “denied … to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens” meaning the young migrants. Sessions also criticized the program, calling it “unilateral executive amnesty” and said it was responsible for “a surge of unaccompanied minors on the southern border that yielded terrible humanitarian consequences.” However, many organizations have attributed the surge of unaccompanied minors to scaling violence in Central America, not to the DACA program.

Many in the crowd held up signs saying “shame” and pointed them toward the White House after the announcement. Many shouted “Donald Trump, shame on you!”

The Department of Homeland Security, which administers the program, has stopped accepting DACA applications, and current recipients will not be affected until March 5, which Sessions said, gives Congress an opportunity to find a legislative solution for the current 800,000 beneficiaries. On its website, DHS says DACA recipients can continue working until their work permits expire. Those with DACA permits that expire between Sept. 5 and March 5, 2018 are eligible to renew their permits, the website says, but they won’t be able to renew after that two-year extension.

In what can be interpreted as a command, the president tweeted: “Congress, get ready to do your job – DACA!,” kicking the political ball into Congress’ hands. But it’s unclear what Congress can and will do.

“We’re not a political hot potato,” said DACA recipient Greisa Martinez, who is advocacy director at United We Dream, a national immigrant youth-led organization for so-called “dreamers,” as the DACA youth are called. The moniker comes from the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, a legislative proposal that has repeatedly failed to pass in Congress and which would give DACA recipients conditional residency. Though a recent bipartisan version of the DREAM Act was once again proposed by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, and Democrat Dick Durbin, of Illinois, the president said pre-emptively he would not sign it. So, it’s unclear what he means when he asks Congress to fix the situation for “dreamers.”

Martinez, who was brought from Mexico to the U.S. at age 7 by her parents, said in an interview with Catholic News Service that there’s a lot of uncertainty about what will happen to youth like her but says she’s focused on the fight ahead to “push politicians to better people.”

“I hold on,” she said, “because I know God is on my side.”

Her fellow “dreamer,” Quinones, a parishioner at Our Lady of Sorrows in Maryland, said the weekend before the announcement had been “very stressful.” Because of DACA, she has a work permit, a driver’s license and is able to attend college in the area. Now, that’s all up in the air. But DACA youth and other immigrants, as well as other Catholics, have shown a lot of support and that helps, she said.

The crowd in front of the White House was sprinkled with Catholics representing organizations such as the Sisters of Mercy, the Franciscan Action Network, Faith in Public Life, as well as men and women religious out to show their support.

Capuchin Franciscan Father Kevin Thompson of Washington, said he wanted to support the youth, which include many young Catholics at the nearby Shrine of the Sacred Heart, where he is the auxiliary pastor.

“This is their country,” he said. “This is the country they know.”

He said he would be praying for Catholics who are against programs such as DACA. The Old Testament is clear, he said, in saying that Christians must welcome the stranger.

“I pray for a change of heart,” he said.

Mercy Sister Anne Curtis said she, too, couldn’t understand the opposition of some Catholics against programs such as DACA because from the Christian point of view, “our tradition is so clear,” regarding immigrants, she said, and urged others to “look to the Gospel.”

She said she was particular disheartened with the announcement because the “dreamers” had been led to believe that the outcome would be different.

“My heart breaks,” she said. “The hope they were given and now to have their dreams dashed.”

Kevin Appleby, senior director of international migration policy for the New York-based Center for Migration Studies, joined the crowd in Washington and said the decision was “cruel, as it violates a pledge made by our government to these young people and places them at risk of deportation to countries they do not know.”

“It is sad that the president was unable to summon the moral and political courage to stand by these inspiring young immigrants, who have shown great strength and fortitude in their efforts to achieve the American dream,” he said. “They represent the future leaders of our nation and would contribute greatly to our economy and culture, if given the chance. Instead of firing them, the president should be hiring them. Now it is up to Congress to do the right thing and find a long-term solution to their plight.”

That includes plans for granting them permanent residency and citizenship, he said.

Dreamer Quinones said she’d received much support from church members at the parish level and among those who turned out to support DACA beneficiaries like her during demonstrations but said she would like to see more support from the local hierarchy.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called the cancellation of DACA “reprehensible” and said in a Sept. 5 statement that the president’s announcement “causes unnecessary fear” for the youths and their families. The bishops repeatedly called on the president to keep the program. They told DACA recipients on Sept. 5: “You are children of God and welcome in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church supports you and will advocate for you.”

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Trump administration announces ‘enhanced enforcement’ of immigration laws


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — In two memos published Feb. 20, the Department of Homeland Security outlined guidelines that White House officials said would enhance enforcement of immigration laws inside the country as well as prevent further unauthorized immigration into the U.S.

A "No Trespassing" sign is situated along the steel bollard border fence in Nogales, Ariz., Feb. 19. (CNS /Nancy Wiechec)

A “No Trespassing” sign is situated along the steel bollard border fence in Nogales, Ariz., Feb. 19. (CNS /Nancy Wiechec)

In a Feb. 21 news briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the guidelines include hiring more border agents, construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, and hiring more personnel to “repatriate illegal immigrants swiftly.”

The memos by Department of Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly also called for state and local agencies to “assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law” and for hiring additional border patrol agents, as well as “500 Air and Marine Agents/Officers.” The cost of implementing such programs, whether there’s enough funding and how Congress will be involved, was not discussed.

While there have been two arrests under the new administration involving recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, it was not mentioned in the new guidelines. The program grants a reprieve from deportation and allows a work permit for those who were brought as minors to the U.S. without legal permission.

In the news briefing, Spicer said the guidelines were meant to prioritize for deportation anyone who was a criminal or posed a threat in some form, but he also said “laws are laws” and that anyone in the country who is here without permission is subject to removal at any time.

In a Feb. 23 statement, Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, said that while public safety is important, the memos detailing the new guidelines “contain a number of provisions that, if implemented as written, will harm public safety rather than enhance it.” Bishop Vasquez added that it will break down “the trust that currently exists between many police departments and immigrant communities, and sow great fear in those communities,” if local enforcement is used to enforce federal immigration laws.

The memos addressed the issue of unaccompanied minors who cross the border, fleeing violence in their home countries or seeking reunification with family in the U.S. They said that “regardless of the desire of family reunification,” smuggling or trafficking is “intolerable” and said “exploitation of that policy led to abuses by many of the parents and legal guardians.”

Bishop Vasquez said the policies in the memos “will needlessly separate families, upend peaceful communities, endanger the lives and safety of the most vulnerable among us” and urged the Trump administration to “reconsider the approach” expressed in the Feb. 20 memos but also “reconsider the approach it has taken in a number of executive orders and actions issued over the last month. Together, these have placed already vulnerable immigrants among us in an even greater state of vulnerability.”

Department of Homeland Security workers, the memo also said, should prioritize for deportation “removable aliens” who “have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits.”

Reports from major outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post said the administration in a conference call said it was seeking to calm fears among immigrant communities by saying only those who “pose a threat or have committed a crime” need to worry about being priorities. But during the news briefing, when asked about a woman who was deported despite having no major criminal convictions, Spicer said he wouldn’t comment on specific cases.

After drafts of memos leaked out in mid-February proposing use of the National Guard in immigration operations, The Associated Press reported that the New Mexico’s Catholic bishops called the ideas in the memos “a declaration of some form of war.” AP provided documents to back up the claim but the White House denied it and the final guidelines made no mention of the National Guard.

Catholic leaders have been urging dignity and respect for migrants and have acknowledged the rampant fear among communities.

The Conference of Major Superiors of Men Feb. 21 issued a statement denouncing the recent arrest by immigration officials of six men exiting a hypothermia shelter at Rising Hope Mission Church in Alexandria, Virginia, saying it violated Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy “not to conduct enforcement actions at or near sensitive locations like houses of worship.”

The conference said it invited “others to join us in denouncing these deportation efforts that harm the ‘least of our brothers and sisters.’ We especially denounce the irreverence, disrespect and violation of sensitive locations, such as houses of worship and ministry which belong to God and the erosion of our Constitutional right to be free from religious oppression by our government.”


Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.


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