By Christopher White
The Tablet’s National Correspondent
Five years after the Obama administration enacted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, protecting immigrants who entered the United States as minors from deportation, President Donald Trump has decided he will end it if Congress does not come up with a permanent solution in six months.
The decision was announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday, and now leaves an estimated 800,000 individuals with an uncertain legal fate, prompting widespread fear and uncertainty among the nation’s immigrant communities and their allies.
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio anticipated the president’s action and made DACA the topic of his Labor Day statement:
“Today on Labor Day we pay tribute to the contributions of American workers. Instituted as a federal holiday back in 1894, it is a time for workers to enjoy the fruits of their year round labor. Today my prayers are especially with the undocumented workers in our Diocese as they face the President’s call for an end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
“The Obama-era program has shielded young undocumented immigrants, who were brought to the U.S. by their parents, from deportation. This group is called Dreamers. It was their parents who first dreamt of a life in America where there is the opportunity to find jobs, make an honest living and give your child a solid education. Now their children, who came through no fault of their own, face deportation to countries to which they feel no connection. They only know America as their home. And these young people are contributing to our society.
“A paper released last year by the Center for Migration Studies of New York found 90% of DACA recipients are employed, and more than 90% have at least a high school degree.
“Catholic Migration Services, which has helped immigrants in our Diocese with immigration services for decades, has also been helping young immigrants with their DACA applications.
“Please join me in praying that our elected leaders will consider the great contributions of the so called Dreamers to our economy and our society and decide to accept them as Americans, allowing them to stay in the only country they have ever known as home.”
The DACA program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, allowed qualifying individuals to apply for a permit to stay in the United States for employment or to continue their education.
In announcing the decision, Sessions said, “I’m here to announce today that the program known as DACA that was effectuated under the Obama administration is being rescinded.”
By establishing a six-month delay for the program’s end, the administration has given Congress an opportunity take action. Partisan gridlock, however, seems to jeopardize the likelihood of a solution, although Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, both Catholics, have indicated a willingness to work together.
President of the USCCB Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Texas, along with USCCB Vice President, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angles, Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Texas, chairman, Committee on Migration, and Bishop Joseph J. Tyson of Yakima, Wash., chairman of the Subcommittee on Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees, and Travelers, called the cancellation of the program “reprehensible.”
“This decision is unacceptable and does not reflect who we are as Americans,” they wrote. “We pledge our support to work on finding an expeditious means of protection for DACA youth… . 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.”
Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, Ill., deemed the decision as “heartless” and called on Congress to “act decisively and swiftly.”
Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., described the decision to rescind DACA as “very regrettable” and “harmful,” while Cardinal Joe Tobin of Newark, N.J., referred to it as an “abandonment of humanity.”
Throughout his campaign for president, Trump pledged to end DACA “on day one.” Following his election, however, the president appeared to have softened, saying he would make a decision on the matter “with heart” and going on to assure DACA beneficiaries that they had nothing to fear.
The decision comes in response to an ultimatum from ten state attorney generals, who had threatened to mount a legal challenge in an unfriendly court if the president did not decide to end the program by Sept. 5. Last Friday, the Attorney General of Tennessee announced that he was withdrawing his support from the lawsuit, citing “the human element” at stake.
Dylan Corbett, executive director of the Hope Border Institute, described today’s decision as “devastating” and a “betrayal.”
In an interview with The Tablet, Corbett said the decision “sends a sign of this administration’s commitment to pursue an anti-immigrant, racist agenda and that they are not looking to govern the entire country.”
“There hasn’t been a coherent immigration policy that has come out of the White House since the president has taken office,” said Corbett. “I think this is a wake-up call that the president is really moving in a direction of mass deportations and that should concern Catholics everywhere and the leadership of the Church across the country.”
“We’re going to have to think about a national strategy,” said Corbett, “and reevaluate things like sanctuary churches and exactly what we do because what this decision means is whether it’s now, tomorrow, or in six months, the fates of almost one million people across the country are in jeopardy.”