The U.S. bishops’ conference quickly responded this morning to a Trump administration decision to terminate an Obama-era program aimed at protecting so-called “Dreamers” from deportation, describing the move as “reprehensible” and “heartbreaking.”
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program had created a temporary shield for around 800,000 Dreamers—teens and young adults without documentation who were brought into the United States as children—who registered for the program. DACA allowed them to pursue higher education and work legally.
Reacting to the move to end the program, the bishops said, “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.”
Significantly the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ statement was signed by the conference’s top figures, including U.S.C.C.B. President Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston; Vice President Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles; Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, chairman, Committee on Migration; and Bishop Joseph J. Tyson of Yakima, Wash., chairman of the Subcommittee on Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees, and Travelers. The bishops deplored the decision, which was announced this morning by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as “a heartbreaking moment in our history that shows the absence of mercy and good will, and a short-sighted vision for the future.”
The bishops said, “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.”
The bishops added, “DACA youth are woven into the fabric of our country and of our Church, and are, by every social and human measure, American youth.”
They said the 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,” the bishops said, “and does not reflect who we are as Americans.”
In a letter from the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States addressed to U.S. dreamers, Timothy Kesicki, S.J., wrote: “Across the U.S., Dreamers like yourself have graced classrooms in Jesuit schools—from the smallest among you to those now earning advanced degrees. You came to us for an education, you came for pastoral and spiritual guidance, and we welcomed you—not because of your nationality—but because you are our brothers and sisters in Christ. No government can tear that sacred bond.”
Father Kesicki joined the bishops in urging a speedy “lasting solution” from Congress, adding, “but more than ever, we commit ourselves to living out God’s law, which calls on us to love the stranger, remembering that our ancestors in faith were once strangers in a foreign land.”
The Obama-era program was due to expire in March 2018 under the expectation that at some point before then the U.S. Congress would come up with a legislative fix that would normalize the status of the nation’s Dreamers. Having spent most of their lives in the United States, few of them have the connections, experience and language skills necessary to succeed back in their countries of origin.
The Trump administration’s decision throws the responsibility back to Congress to resolve the matter. In the past, however, Congress has been unable to pass legislation that would protect Dreamers specifically or as part of comprehensive immigration reform, prompting then President Barack Obama to create DACA by executive order in June 2012.
In their statement today the U.S. bishops strongly urged Congress to “immediately resume work toward a legislative solution” and pledged their support “to work on finding an expeditious means of protection for DACA youth.”
In a statement released on Sept. 5, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, pledged to begin work on a legislative response to replace the program and protect the nation’s Dreamers.
“However well-intentioned,” he said, “President Obama’s DACA program was a clear abuse of executive authority, an attempt to create law out of thin air. Just as the courts have already struck down similar Obama policy, this was never a viable long-term solution to this challenge. Congress writes laws, not the president...But now there is more to do, and the president has called on Congress to act.
“It is my hope that the House and Senate, with the president’s leadership, will be able to find consensus on a permanent legislative solution that includes ensuring that those who have done nothing wrong can still contribute as a valued part of this great country.”
Meanwhile House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called the decision to rescind DACA “a deeply shameful act of political cowardice.” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer said in a statement: “The human and economic toll of rescinding DACA will be far reaching and Democrats will do everything we can to prevent President Trump’s terribly wrong order from becoming reality.”
The Sisters of Mercy, which represents 2,900 women in North and South America, said in a statement that they agree Congress must act on immigration reform, but took issue with the president’s decision.
“Although President Trump had repeatedly pledged to treat DACA recipients ‘with heart,’ his decision to wind down DACA is deeply troubling,” the statement reads. “We agree that Congress needs to pass just immigration policy reform, but this action by the Administration abdicates its responsibility and promise to DACA recipients, and undermines our nation's professed values of fairness, welcome and compassion.”
Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich called the decision “heartless.”
Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich called the decision “heartless,” and he questioned whether Congress would be able to enact meaningful immigration reform in six months—after being stymied on the issue for years.
“An immediate first step is for our leaders to pass legislation that will protect those previously covered by the DACA program, while they deal with the long-overdue comprehensive reform of our immigration system,” the cardinal said. “They must be guided by compassion and respect for human dignity, and honestly consider the substantial evidence that deporting these young Americans would do great economic harm to the states where they reside.”
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, in a statement responding to “this unconscionable action by President Trump,” urged Congress to immediately take up and pass the bipartisan Dream Act of 2017. “We will continue to advocate for bipartisan legislation that addresses our outdated immigration system,” said Joan Marie Steadman, C.S.C, the group’s executive director.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, who earlier this summer attended a White House ceremony for the signing of one of Mr. Trump’s executive orders related to religious liberty, called the decision “regrettable and harmful.”
Mr. Trump defended his decision, arguing he is giving Congress a “window of opportunity” to act and stressing in a statement that he is “not going to just cut DACA off, but rather provide a window of opportunity for Congress to finally act.”
The president said he did not favor punishing children for the actions of their parents. But he said: “Young Americans have dreams too.”
This article includes updates.