Every day my ministry brings me into contact with immigrants. Some are citizens or legal residents, others have immigration cases in process, and still others have no realistic hope of regularizing their situations under our current laws. I listen to their stories, their worries, their dreams and help where I can.
One special group of immigrants is those we know as Dreamers or recipients of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). About 800,000 young people are currently enrolled in this program. An estimated 1.5 million more could qualify but did not enroll for various reasons, including the fear that enrolling would jeopardize the status of relatives in the country without documents.
Many of us have already written numerous letters and made many phone calls on their behalf. But now, even if we have already done so, we must take action again and write or call our representatives in Congress, or better yet do both—and urge them to protect these youth who were brought to this country illegally as children.
Dreamers have grown up in the United States. Many of them remember no other country. They’ve been educated here and speak English fluently. The youngest are still in high school. The rest have enrolled in college or are employed. Some are PhD candidates, doctors, attorneys, scientists, teachers and mechanics. About one thousand are members of the US armed forces. No one who committed a crime could even apply for DACA.
These are exactly the sort of people we can be proud to call our neighbors and friends. They have long lives ahead of them, lives with which they can make substantial contributions to our society. Leaving aside all the moral and ethical reasons why we should protect the legal status of these young people, for economic reasons alone DACA makes great sense. It is estimated that during their lifetimes these Dreamers have the capacity to add $329 billion to the US economy.
Recent non-partisan polling indicates that more than 75% of US voters want protection for Dreamers. More than 55% also want them to have a pathway to citizenship. Yet these young people are being used as bargaining chips in the larger debate on immigration.
I know some of these DACA recipients personally. They speak of feeling like they are on a seesaw, one week with hope, the next with despair. Their lives are on hold, waiting to see if they will ever receive a favorable response to their dreams. They wonder what they will do if no action on their behalf is forthcoming. Should they return to their country of origin? Or try to blend back into the shadows of the undocumented, losing their work permits, drivers licenses, and their right to be here as students?
I try to put myself in the place of Sylvia (not her real name), who is studying nursing at a state university. The new semester has begun, and she wonders if she will be able to complete it. Even more she wonders what her life would be like if she had to return to Mexico, especially since she only has distant relatives living there and has not been out of this country since she was too small to remember.
Or Jesus (also not his real name), who dreams of specializing in immigration law when he graduates in the next couple of years. Now he interns with a non-profit helping low-income workers protect their rights. What future awaits him?
Or Angel, a high school junior who never enrolled in DACA because he didn’t realize he could. His marks place him in the top quarter of his class, but he realizes he may not be here to graduate unless something changes.
DACA expires on March 5. Right now, before it’s too late, our members of Congress need to hear from us. We need to tell them that we care about Dreamers and want the DACA program renewed. As important, we want – and our faith demands – a pathway to citizenship so as not to uproot the lives of so many young people who’ve made enormous contributions to our communities and our economy.
In the words of the US Catholic Bishops Conference:
DACA youth are woven into the fabric of our country and of our Church, and are, by every social and human measure, American 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.
If you would like to advocate for the Dreamers, please click here to send a letter to your government representatives.