Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles said in a statement on Tuesday, “Once again, we begin a new year with uncertainty and fear over immigration, and this year our leaders in Congress face a hard deadline. On March 5, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program will expire, meaning that some 690,000 young people will lose their permission to work in this country and will face deportation.”

The archbishop’s statement came out in the midst of National Migration Week (January 7 to 13), an annual observance of the Catholic Church. The president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, had issued a message to the nation before the week began. He wrote, “For nearly 50 years, this week has been a time of prayer and reflection on our history as a migrant Church and nation.  In these five decades, the face of the immigrant may have changed — European, Asian, South American, and elsewhere — but their faces reveal a common desire to secure the great blessings of American opportunity. 

“Pope Francis, in his statement on the World Day of Peace on Jan. 1, 2018 [which you can read on page 20 of this edition of The Anchor], advises us that if we view the situation of migrants and refugees through the wisdom of our faith ‘we discover that they do not arrive empty-handed.  They bring their courage, skills, energy and aspirations, as well as the treasures of their own cultures; and in this way, they enrich the lives of the nations that receive them.’”

The cardinal concluded, “This week, I invite everyone to reflect on the Holy Father’s words as well as on your own family’s immigration story. Please also join me in prayer for all families, as together, we ‘Share the Journey’ toward a better life” [The cardinal was referring at the end to the “Share the Journey” initiative which Pope Francis kicked off last year].

Monday the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that it was ending the Temporary Protective Status program for people who came here from El Salvador after some natural disasters at the beginning of the millennium. In response, Bishop José Vasquez of Austin, the chairman of the USCCB’s committee on migration, stated, “The decision to terminate TPS for El Salvador is heartbreaking. El Salvador is currently not in a position to adequately handle the return of the roughly 200,000 Salvadoran TPS recipients. Families will be needlessly separated because of this decision.”

Bishop Vasquez continued, “We believe that God has called us to care for the foreigner and the marginalized: ‘So you too should love the resident alien, for that is what you were in the land of Egypt’ (Deut 10:19). Our nation must not turn its back on TPS recipients and their families; they too are children of God. DHS has provided an 18-month period (through Sept. 9, 2019) during which TPS recipients from El Salvador can legally stay in the United States and prepare for their departure. “We renew our call to Congress to work in a bipartisan manner to find a legislative solution for long-term TPS recipients, and we stand ready to support such efforts. TPS recipients are an integral part of our communities, churches, and nation.” This is especially true in New Bedford, on Cape Cod and Nantucket, each of which have significant Salvadoran populations, who had been assisted by Catholic Social Services’ immigration attorneys to apply for TPS more than a decade ago.

Bishop Vasquez concluded, “As with DACA, we strongly urge Congressional members and leadership to come together and address this issue as soon as possible. To Salvadoran TPS recipients, we promise to continue to stand in solidarity with you and pray for you and your families, and all those who are displaced or forced to flee from their homes.”

Returning to the DACA program, Archbishop Gomez wrote, “The story of these young people, called ‘Dreamers,’ is well-known. Brought to this country as children by undocumented parents or family members, they are not ‘illegal’ through any fault of their own. Today, the ‘Dreamers’ are the ‘poster children’ for how broken our system is and how unhealthy and unproductive our political discourse has become.

“By any measure, these are the kind of young people that our country should be encouraging. Nearly everyone — 97 percent — is either in school or in the workforce. About five percent have already started their own business; 15 percent have bought their first homes. These are good kids and we should want to help them to develop their God-given potentials, to keep their families together and to make their own contribution to the American dream.

“They are vital to our economic future. In a letter to congressional leaders in September, more than 800 executives representing every sector of the economy agreed that DACA youths contribute more than $460 billion to our economy and another $24 billion in taxes,” according to the archbishop.

Later in his statement, he wrote, “There is a lot of passionate talk about how immigrants take jobs from Americans and drive down wages. Is this really the case? In agricultural centers like California’s Central Valley, farmers this year again could not find enough workers to harvest their crops. Even as minimum wages and benefits have risen across the country, employers say there are not enough American-born workers who want to do the low-skilled and low-wage work needed in our fields and construction sites, hotels and other areas.”

The California prelate lamented, “Fixing DACA, then, should be easy. Everybody seems to realize that it would be cruel to punish them for the wrongs of their parents, deporting them to countries of origin that they have never seen, where they may not even know the language. And yet here we are. It is eight weeks until the deadline and these young people find themselves stuck in the middle of a much broader debate about border walls, national security and the inner workings of our visa system.”

The archbishop agreed that lengthy debates should be had about the other issues he mentioned, but that resolving DACA is a pressing issue, affecting the lives of human beings (who could be at risk in the countries they left as children), while reworking the entire immigration system cannot be done in two months.

“Our system has been broken for too long and there is too much that is wrong. Congress should take the time to debate the issues properly and to truly fashion an immigration system that reflects the global realities of the 21st-century economy,” he said. “The point is that we need a total reform of our immigration system, and it should not be tied to the current debate over DACA and the ‘Dreamers.’”

The archbishop concluded (and we concur with him), “So, I hope you will join me in urging our leaders in Congress to help them in a spirit of generosity and justice. And we need to tell our leaders that fixing DACA should be the first step in the systematic immigration reform that has long been overdue in our country.”

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts