Legislators encouraged to provide legal status to DACA recipients

Maria, a “dreamer” interviewed anonymously for this story, was younger than this first communicant, Susana Fernandez, when she was first brought to the United States by her parents to live. Maria now has a child of her own about Susana’s age, from whom she could be separated if DACA recipients are deported. To find out what you can do to help, read on.

by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Maria’s life is suspended between hope and uncertainty as she considers her future.

Will she be able to stay in the only homeland she has ever known?

Or will she be deported?

Maria (not her real name) was brought to the United States as a five-year-old by her parents. She’s an undocumented immigrant.

Now with a child and a career, the 30-year-old had been living the American Dream in Kansas City, Kansas — with limited security as a DACA participant.

DACA — the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — was established by executive order by President Barack Obama in 2012. It shielded undocumented persons who had been brought to the United States as children from deportation.

Program participants could, with a $500 renewable permit, apply for a Social Security number, work legally in the United States, go to school and travel.

Since 2012, about 740,000 people have participated in DACA. Of those, about 12,500 are in Kansas.

Often these undocumented persons are referred to as “dreamers,” derived from the acronym for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, which was introduced in Congress several times but did not become law.

The situation changed on Sept. 5 when, under pressure from threatened lawsuits from 10 states, President Donald Trump rescinded DACA and gave the U.S. Congress six months to find a legislative fix or . . .

It’s the “or” that is causing so much uncertainty.

What happens if Congress doesn’t pass a law helping tens of thousands like Maria?

No one can say with certainty.

Maria, a full-time social worker and children and family therapist, was hesitant about signing up for DACA in the first place.

“I applied when it first came out, but I was very hesitant to do so,” said Maria. “A lot of people failed to understand what’s in its name. ‘Deferred action’ means, literally, ‘to set aside to review for a later time.’

“That scared me. I didn’t want to enter this program and then, later on, the decision, as now, being revoked or taken away.”

“The reason for me applying [for DACA] was because there was nothing else to do,” concluded Maria. “I had no other hope. I couldn’t move forward with my degree if I didn’t have some sort of legality.”

When he first got the news that DACA had been rescinded, Greg Bole felt concern and helplessness.

Bole, an immigration attorney with Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, said his agency has helped approximately 500 dreamers over the past five years.

“Now, their situations are in peril, and their lives in the United States have been put into a confused state,” said Bole.

“If Congress doesn’t pass anything by the [six-month] deadline, those who received work authorization — and therefore driver’s licenses and legal status in the United States — would lose that when their card expires,” he said. “They will revert to being undocumented.

“Any undocumented person in the United States is at risk of deportation.”

Father Michael Hermes, pastor of St. Paul Parish in Olathe, has worked with dreamers for many years in schools and parishes.

“We always told these young people to stay hopeful, graduate from high school and college, go to Sunday Mass and receive the sacraments, get ready to do something special with your lives, and plan to give back to our community and our country,” he said.

The rescinding of DACA has produced “great sadness and fear,” said Father Hermes. He’s advised the dreamers he knows to keep going forward with their education and work as Congress takes up the issue.

“The dreamers have done nothing wrong,” he said. “Most were brought into this country while under the age of 7. This was not their decision.”

“The dreamers I know want to accomplish something special in their lives by getting educated or serving our country in the military,” he continued. “These young people are above average in every way. These are people we want in our parishes and in our communities.”

One thing that the dreamers can count on is the Catholic Church’s support.

“We as church will support them as we support any people in need,” said Father Oswaldo Sandoval, pastor of All Saints Parish in Kansas City, Kansas.

“They are our people. They come to our churches. They belong to many of our groups and are in many leadership positions,” he said. “They have many talents. They are the present and the future of our nation — the young people.”

What the country needs is comprehensive immigration reform, said Msgr. Stuart Swetland, president of Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas.

“The Catholic bishops of the United States, based on Catholic teaching and the clear statements of sacred Scripture, have been calling for comprehensive immigration reform . . . for 40 years,” he said.

“This issue is not new,” he continued. “We’ve needed to address our unjust immigration laws and very cumbersome and non-user-friendly immigration system for two biblical generations.

“That’s the big picture. We need comprehensive immigration reform that takes into consideration basic moral principles . . . the Catholic catechism in paragraph 2241 lays out that basic teaching.”

That reform, Father Sandoval hopes, would create a path to citizenship for the dreamers.

“We need to be people of the law,” he said. “We need to keep in mind that laws are made for the good of us all, of all human beings, the common good.

“In the Scriptures you will find everywhere that God calls us to be there for the people, for immigrants. They are not our enemies. They are people — good people.”

What needs to be done is for Congress to pass some version of the DREAM Act, said Bill Scholl, archdiocesan consultant for social justice.

This will only happen, he said, if Catholics hold Congress accountable.

“Ultimately, Congress is responsible to the American people, and I think they’ve gotten the message that people are frustrated with our broken immigration system,” said Scholl.

“While we might not agree completely on how to fix it,” he continued, “DACA has shown that we want to find at least some common ground to solve the problem for these young people.

“It goes against American values to deport people who were raised here and — for all intents and purposes — are American and many times don’t speak the native language of the country from which they originated.”

Every Catholic should be praying for Congress to enact a just and compassionate public policy for the dreamers, said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann.

“In addition to praying, we should be contacting our senators and representatives in the U.S. Congress, urging them to support legislation that will grant legal status and protections to the dreamers,” he said.

“I encourage members of Congress to provide, through legislation, legal status — and hopefully a pathway to citizenship — for those who were protected by DACA,” said the archbishop.

“President Trump has created a six-month window for the Congress to pass legislation that resolves this issue in a much more stable and permanent way [than through executive orders],” he added. “The president has signaled that he would sign a legislative solution.

“It is time for Congress to act now.”

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