Nestor, a 27-year-old community college graduate from St. Mary Parish in Davenport, is among 800,000 recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Created in 2012 by former President Barack Obama, DACA provided protection and work permits for qualified, undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children. DACA made it possible for Nestor to go to college and to work full-time in housekeeping.
Our Davenport Diocese’s Immigration Counselors Gricelda Garnica and Karina Garnica have guided about 70 young adults — ranging in age from 15 to 29 — through the application process to become DACA recipients between 2012 and now. Most of them have sought to continue post-secondary education and to obtain jobs to pay for their education and to help support their families. Their commitment to better themselves and to contribute to the wellbeing of family and neighbor enrich our workplaces and our churches. They’re worried; phone calls to the Immigration office attest to that fact.
At press time, the fate of DACA recipients remained uncertain because President Donald Trump has been under pressure to eliminate DACA. Church, civic and even political leaders urged against this ill-conceived action. Our efforts, as the neighbors that Jesus calls us to be, should support legislation allowing these young adults to remain in the United States, the only home that many of them have known. It would be cruel to send these young adults to a country they do not know, where a language is spoken that they may not speak and where they have no family or support system in place.
Iowa’s bishops urged our state’s congressional delegation in a letter dated Sept. 1 to publicly support DACA youths. Move forward, the bishops said, “in a bipartisan manner and find a permanent legislative solution to ensure that DACA youth can remain in the United States and can continue to reach their God-given potential. One such existing proposal is the bipartisan Dream Act of 2017, which we support.” The bishops “promise to work with lawmakers from all parties to ensure that DACA youth are able to stay in this country and live without fear.” We, as laity and clergy, should likewise support the Dream Act, a measure that would demonstrate our commitment to the dignity of the human person.
The Dream Act of 2017 offers a merciful solution, short of comprehensive immigration reform, to the perceived overreach of former President Obama in addressing a group of undocumented immigrants who themselves broke no laws! The bipartisan legislation would provide them with lawful, permanent resident status on a conditional basis. Individuals involved in crime, terrorism, smuggling, student visa abuse or other inadmissible activities would be rejected.
Opponents of DACA and the Dream Act view both as amnesty, rather than what these measures honestly represent: an opportunity for human flourishing. Does it make any sense to deport 800,000 individuals who are contributing to society as employees in many different fields, as military veterans, leaders in our parishes and communities and students in our colleges and universities? And what about the disruption of our workforce as these individuals are forced to leave?
Iowa’s bishops concluded their letter to the congressional delegation with a commitment to DACA recipients in Iowa. The bishops echoed Bishop Joe Vasquez, chair of the USCCB Migration Committee, writing on behalf of the U.S. bishops: “Please know that the Catholic Church stands in solidarity with you. We recognize your intrinsic value as children of God. We understand the anxiety and fear you face and we appreciate and applaud the daily contributions you make with your families, to local communities and parishes, and to our country.”
Here’s how we can respond:
• Ask Iowa’s congressional delegation to support and co-sponsor S. 1615, the Dream Act of 2017, and to also work toward legislative reform of our nation’s immigration laws. In our diocese, contact Sen. Charles Grassley: www.grassley.senate.gov; Sen. Joni Ernst: www.ernst.senate.gov; Rep. David Loebsack: https://loebsack.house.gov; and Rep. Rod Blum: https://blum.house.gov.
• Include an intercession on behalf of the DACA youths and their families at Mass.
• Visit the Iowa Catholic Conference website — www.iowacatholicconference.org — to sign up for action alerts on this and other issues.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor