It’s 90 degrees out, but the butterflies, made of colorful cardboard with messages like “Love” and “Justice,” are out in full force. The Coalition for Humane Human Rights has called us together—college students, parents, teachers, workers, clergy. Perhaps there is a tinge of inevitability in the air, but there is also urgency and defiant courage. We are all here to defend DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and as I hold up our banner that simply states “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk 12:31), I reflect prayerfully: Why am I defending DACA?
There is a special vantage point I have as a teacher. I spend much of my time looking into the faces of young people from my privileged spot in front of the classroom. In these 10 years, technology has changed but little else has. When I look out, I invariably see some baseball caps, headphones that must be removed, tussled hair from a late night of studying and hopeful eyes. It is those eyes I cannot forget. In each classroom, I encounter the next unfolding mystery of the human race, the ones who will forge futures we cannot yet imagine, the ones who will love, and build, and dream. And as I look at them, read their writings and listen to their questions there is one thing I cannot do—I cannot ever agree that only some of these young people have worth and others have not. Every single one of them was known and loved from their mother’s womb by the One who brings all things into being.
How can I then look at a system, economic, educational, or social, that takes the accidents of history—whether you were born in New York City, or in San Salvador, white or brown or black, physically able or struggling—and agree that this pure coincidence of birth rightly excludes some? As I look out at the young faces in my classroom, I want the very best for each of their budding lives.
DACA is a small and imperfect step in realizing what we Christians assert as truth about the dignity of all.
These are just some of the stories of my former students with DACA: three elementary school teachers, one medical school student, two lawyers, one urban planner, one city engineer, one software engineer, one college counselor, one gifted writer. And the very first undocumented student I ever taught is now a priest of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. These are the human beings and members of our communities who are now political cannon fodder. Many of them are supporting extended families or helping siblings go to school. All are examples of hope and promise.
DACA is a small and imperfect step in realizing what we Christians assert as truth about the dignity of all. It represents a recognition of the God-given beauty of these young people, who want nothing except to provide dignified lives for their families and to contribute their talents to our communal well-being. At the rally I attended, a mother speaks about the difference it has made that her children, protected under DACA, can work without the fear of exploitation. She points to the low wages and disenfranchisement that being undocumented brings, as others in the crowd nod knowingly.
DACA is a step, a vital step, that needs to be followed by comprehensive immigration reform; it is not the answer, but for now it has allowed 800,000 youths to take their rightful place in our classrooms and our workplaces.
As I look out at my students, I hear Father Gustavo Gutierrez, who, when I was blessed enough to be in his classroom, looked out at us and said, “we don’t love the poor because they are good, we love the poor because God is good.” Unauthorized immigrants all over the world are the poor who cannot overcome their marginality on their own. Our laws have made them into “no one,” our love must make them into “someone.”
We pray these days for hearts of flesh and the courage to love.