DACA ruling encourages Davenport Diocese leaders and recipients

Ana De La Torre wanted to scream with happiness when she heard news of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling June 18 that stopped termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Hugo Rodriguez
Ana De La Torre, a DACA beneficiary, spends time with her sons Isai, right, and Yahir at home in Ottumwa.

“It feels like a weight has been lifted off our shoulders,” said De La Torre, 30, a member of St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Ottumwa. “I’m able to renew my work permit and keep working the same way I have been. … I can move on with my life.”

She and 700,000 other DACA recipients in the U.S. — known as “Dreamers” — including her twin brothers, had been waiting anxiously for months for a decision that could have uprooted their lives.

The 5-4 court ruling on June 18 put the brakes on ending DACA, at least temporarily, stating that the Trump administration’s actions in rescinding the program were “arbitrary and capricious,” Catholic News Service reported. The decision came seven months after the court examined three separate appellate court rulings that blocked President Donald Trump’s 2017 executive order to end DACA, a program the Obama administration created in 2012 by executive order.

Bishop Thomas Zinkula said the empathy demonstrated in the court’s decision heartens him. “The court makes decisions based on the law, but the justices don’t need to set aside their human emotions in their interpretation and application of the law. Since I am a civil and canon lawyer, the scales of justice appear on my coat of arms. If you look closely, you will note that one scale is lower than the other. For me, the two scales represent justice and mercy, and I view the lower scale as the scale of mercy. I think that is the message of Jesus in the Gospels. Pope Francis preached recently about ‘the grace of justice in mercy, and merciful justice.’ True justice is available only through mercy. Yes, good, unexpected news!”

Father Rudolph Juarez, diocesan Vicar for Hispanics and soon-to-be pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Davenport, said more than eight communities in the Diocese of Davenport celebrate Sunday Mass in Spanish. The court ruling gives “great peace of mind” to immigrants in these and other parishes in the diocese who come from many different countries.

He estimates that the court decision will directly affect about 15-25 percent of the families in the parishes that offer Spanish Mass. “And, of course, the communities they live in and friendships and working relationships impacted is something to consider as well. And even if it is only a few students in our diocese affected by this decision, it is still a win for their families and for the parish and local community in which they worship and live,” Father Juarez said.

“While the court ruling gives many a sigh of relief, it doesn’t resolve the problem completely,” he said. “Congress should step up to the plate and find the political will to do something for Dreamers that will withstand the test of time and whim. This ruling gives a reprieve to those DACA recipients who have had to put a hold on their college and career plans because of the uncertainty of their future in this country.”

The ruling also demonstrates practicality and compassion, he said. It is not practical to return young people to a country they are unfamiliar with or to treat them punitively for actions over which they had no control. Compassion is shown from the standpoint that Dreamers have received “the stability and opportunity to contribute even more to our society than they could have because of an uncertain status.”

De La Torre came to Iowa from Mexico when she was 14. DACA protections – which include a work permit and temporary relief from deportation – have allowed her to work at a financial institution.

When the Trump administration announced plans in 2017 to phase out DACA, “It was devastating …The ‘what if’ questions arose,” De La Torre said. “At times I’d ask my husband, ‘What are we going to do if this happens?’ He said we have to trust in God, wait and see. But it was hard to keep calm and not think about it.”

In a statement on the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. (CLINIC) website, responding to the court ruling, Bishop Jaime Soto emphasized the need for something permanent for DACA recipients. “Congress should act quickly to pass legislation granting these Americans a pathway to permanent residency and citizenship,” said Bishop Soto of Sacramento, who serves as CLINIC’s board chair.

Nestor Alvarez, a Davenport Catholic, agrees wholeheartedly that DACA recipients need a pathway to citizenship. He works as a medical screener in a plasma donation center and is a graduate of Scott Community College.

“My enrollment into the DACA program changed my personal and professional life in a significant way,” Alvarez said. DACA made it easier for him to enroll in college courses and apply for good jobs. He is thrilled that childhood arrivals will be able to maintain their protections through the DACA program, for now. “It allows them to achieve whatever goals they have in mind. It also has an effect on their families, because (parents) know that their kids will have better opportunities and more chances to succeed.”

Gloria Mancilla, a member of St. Mary Parish in Davenport, was emotional when she heard the news about the DACA ruling. She came to the United States from Mexico at age 9, and understands the kind of limbo that childhood arrivals face. “I feel relief for the people who have DACA right now that are going through school and working in good jobs. They are coming out of the shadows, and that is very important. I know what DACA does for the economy and for families.”

Miguel Moreno, diocesan coordinator of Multicultural Ministry, said the church has always supported the DACA program. However, “the greatest desire is that everyone, not only Hispanics, can obtain their residence and citizenship and become fully incorporated into the society and economy of this great country.” The ruling “is a great step, but we continue on the way.”

By Barb Arland-Fye and Lindsay Steele

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