The end of DACA

On Tuesday representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, its president, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of flood-ravaged Galveston-Houston; its vice president, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles; Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the Committee on Migration; and Bishop Joseph J. Tyson of Yakima, chairman of the Subcommittee on Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees, and Travelers, issued a statement criticizing the Trump Administration’s termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program in six months time. 

According to the USCCB, “more than 780,000 youth received protection from the DACA program since 2012. DACA provided no legal status or government benefits but did provide recipients with temporary employment authorization to work in the United States and reprieve from deportation.”

The bishops wrote, “The cancellation of the DACA program is reprehensible. It causes unnecessary fear for DACA youth and their families. These youth entered the U.S. as minors and often know America as their only home. The Catholic Church has long watched with pride and admiration as DACA youth live out their daily lives with hope and a determination to flourish and contribute to society: continuing to work and provide for their families, continuing to serve in the military, and continuing to receive an education. Now, after months of anxiety and fear about their futures, these brave young people face deportation. This decision is unacceptable and does not reflect who we are as Americans.”

Many DACA youth live in the Diocese of Fall River, having come to the state with their parents, often fleeing the strong possibility of being the victim of violent gangs which besiege many Central American cities and towns. Some of these gangs trace their origins back to the United States. U.S. gangs saw recruiting possibilities after the 1980s civil wars ended in those countries. 

The bishops continued, “The Church has recognized and proclaimed the need to welcome young people: ‘Whoever welcomes one of these children in My name welcomes Me; and whoever welcomes Me does not welcome me but the One Who sent Me’ (Mk 9:37). Today, our nation has done the opposite of how Scripture calls us to respond. It is a step back from the progress that we need to make as a country. Today’s actions represent a heartbreaking moment in our history that shows the absence of mercy and goodwill, and a short-sighted vision for the future. DACA youth are woven into the fabric of our country and of our Church, and are, by every social and human measure, American youth.”

Many of these young people have little or even no memory of the country from which they came and to which they may be deported. Since they came as minors, many (or most) of them had no choice in the matter when they entered the United States. President Trump himself acknowledged this on Tuesday, “I do not favor punishing children, most of whom are now adults, for the actions of their parents. But we must also recognize that we are nation of opportunity because we are a nation of laws.”

The bishops issued a call to action: “We strongly urge Congress to act and immediately resume work toward a legislative solution. We pledge our support to work on finding an expeditious means of protection for DACA youth.”

In a backwards way, this can be an opportunity to improve the legal situation of the young people currently in DACA. President Obama himself said several times before establishing DACA in 2012 that the executive branch of the federal government does not have the authority to legalize undocumented people — only the Congress does.

In the early years of this new millennium, Senator John McCain, together with President George W. Bush and Senator Ted Kennedy, did begin to work together for comprehensive immigration reform. However, that effort lost a lot of traction after the attacks of 9/11. Many immigration advocates thought that they would get a better deal from Barack Obama than from John McCain and supported Obama’s election. However, during the early years of his presidency, some pro-undocumented groups labeled Obama the “deporter-in-chief,” since more people were deported under him annually than under any previous president ( has an article about that moniker, saying that it is partially true, while also partially due to a change in the definition of “deportation” to include people caught at the border and forced back into Mexico).

President Obama told Univision Radio on Oct. 25, 2010, “If Congress has laws on the books that says that people who are here who are not documented have to be deported, then I can exercise some flexibility in terms of where we deploy our resources, to focus on people who are really causing problems as a opposed to families who are just trying to work and support themselves. But there’s a limit to the discretion that I can show because I am obliged to execute the law. That’s what the Executive Branch means. I can’t just make the laws up by myself. So the most important thing that we can do is focus on changing the underlying laws.” 

Two years later President Obama changed his mind and created DACA. Later he was under pressure to grant amnesty to all of the undocumented residents in the country. He did not do this larger move, which is a good thing, since it could have been reversed as easily as DACA is being reversed now. David Brooks of the New York Times wrote on Nov. 17, 2014 (when this amnesty via executive action was being contemplated), “Instead of a nation of laws, we could slowly devolve into a nation of diktats, with each president relying on and revoking different measures on the basis of unilateral power — creating unstable swings from one presidency to the next.” President Trump has followed this path that his predecessor trod.

The bishops concluded their statement, “As people of faith, we say to DACA youth — regardless of your immigration status, you are children of God and welcome in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church supports you and will advocate for you.” As members of the Church, may we urge our members of Congress to find a just and merciful solution to these immigrants’ predicament.

We invite you to participate in an Interfaith Candlelight Prayer Service for National Healing and Unity on Sunday, September 17 at 8 p.m. at the National Shrine of Our Lady of LaSalette in Attleboro. 

May Our Lady lead us in the path of healing and justice.

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