By Celine Klosterman
Leaders in Hispanic ministry in the Diocese of Davenport said they’re glad the United States will stop deporting some undocumented young immigrants, but hope for comprehensive immigration reform that will help more people.
“We need to continue working for the DREAM Act,” Father Bernie Weir said. He is pastor of St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Ottumwa, which has about 380 Spanish-speaking families. He said President Barack Obama’s announcement will affect some young Catholics in Ottumwa. “As soon as they have an opportunity to apply, they will.”
He noted that the president’s executive order, announced June 15, offers eligible applicants ages 15 to 30 only temporary relief from deportation proceedings and an opportunity to apply for work permits.
In contrast, the DREAM Act — which stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors — would provide a path to citizenship for some young people who came to the United States without documentation as children. They would be required to meet qualifications regarding school enrollment or military service and show good moral character.
But Fr. Weir, Sister Jane McCarthy, OSF, Father Ed O’Melia and Father Dennis Martin agreed the executive order is at least a step in the right direction.
“In light of the absence of comprehensive immigration reform and the fact that it is probably unlikely in the near future, this gives some opportunity to young people who came into this country at an age when they could not have done so on their own,” Sr. McCarthy said. She is director of Latino ministry at Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton. That parish’s “fledgling” Hispanic community doesn’t include many Catholics in the age range eligible to request deportation relief and work permits. She said there is much misinformation about the executive order, which she noted does not include a path to legal status.
“It takes a little fear out of some people’s lives,” said Fr. Martin. He is pastor of St. Joseph Parish in West Liberty, which he said has about 300 Spanish-speaking families. He doesn’t ask the legal status of his parishioners, but said he’s sure some will be affected by the order.
Fr. O’Melia said he shared news of the executive order with his parishioners at St. Mary’s in Davenport, which he said has about 500 Spanish-speaking families, but received no response. “I guess if I were them, I too would ‘wait and see’ if it makes any difference.”
The Davenport Diocese’s immigration office has started receiving calls from people hoping to take advantage of the order, said Glenn Leach, a volunteer in the diocese’s social action department.
“It will be at least 60 days, possibly longer, until implementing instructions are published so that our office can begin processing cases. Unfortunately, we have heard that there are unscrupulous folks already offering to process applications before application forms even exist.”
Immigrants’ cases will be difficult to take on, Leach said. Many applicants will lack documents proving eligibility, and attempted fraud is likely. Fraudulent applications will result in deportation, he said. “It will also be a difficult call for the ‘Dreamers,’ as in identifying themselves they are also identifying their parents, who are not eligible for either protection or benefits under the new direction.”
But immigrants who apply successfully will find some justice, Leach believes. “These children have grown up with our children, attended the same schools, played on the same teams and in the same bands, but upon high school graduation cannot even legally get a job.” The executive order “allows them to work, to go to college and to enlist in the military, without constantly looking over their shoulders, fearing deportation.”
Presentation on executive order
Immigration counselors with the Diocese of Davenport will speak Sunday, July 1, at St. Mary Church in Davenport at noon about the deferred action for young people who are undocumented immigrants. This presentation is to inform the community who can apply and get benefits, and what the consequences and risks are. For more information, call the diocese at (563) 324-1911.