President Donald Trump’s promise to treat undocumented minors with “great heart” needs to be reflected in policy that gives them legal protection, not deportation, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles has said. “They did not make the decision to enter this country in violation of our laws, and in fairness we cannot hold them accountable,” Archbishop Gomez said in an Aug. 29 column for the Archdiocese’s Angelus News.
“America is the only country they know, and the vast majority are working hard to make their own contribution to the American dream.” “It would be a tragedy to cancel DACA and declare these 800,000 young people ‘illegal’ and begin deporting them,” he added.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was established under President Obama to protect such people from deportation and to allow them to secure work permits. The Trump administration is under pressure from the attorneys general of 10 states, who have said they will file suit against President Trump on Sept. 5 unless he cancels the program. Archbishop Gomez, however, saw an opening for the president to change.
“President Trump campaigned on a promise to end DACA,” the archbishop continued. “But since his election he has expressed sympathy for these young people, promising to treat them with ‘great heart’.” “His words on DACA have been reassuring, even as his actions in other areas — ordering increased immigration raids and deportations — have caused widespread fear.”
Archbishop Gomez called on lawmakers to grant those covered by DACA permanent relief from deportation and to give them the chance for permanent residency and, eventually, to seek citizenship. The fate of the eleven million undocumented people in the U.S. is “the most complicated and controversial aspect” of proposed immigration reform. However, the archbishop said there is broad support for a “generous path” to regularizing their status and even giving them citizenship if they meet requirements like learning English, paying some fines, and holding a tax-paying job. Such a path to reform would begin with resolving the situation of the young people who qualify for DACA, he said.
Archbishop Gomez’s column also reflected on the personal and political difficulties surrounding immigration status. “We need to keep in mind that beneath all the politics, there are real people, real issues and legitimate differences of opinion,” he said. “That should not be an excuse for inaction. It should be the reason for coming together and finding a way to move forward.” “Immigration remains a difficult issue and it is made even more difficult by the polarization of our politics. It is no secret that both parties and activist groups on either side ‘benefit’ by the present gridlock,” the archbishop continued.
He said there is reluctance on all sides to seeking common ground, and a seeming willingness to “leave the issue unresolved, even if that means people continue to suffer — all for the sake of not ‘giving the other side a win’.” “No one should be naïve about this reality. But we should not accept this reality, either,” he said, saying that the situation is a sign of a deeply unhealthy phenomenon in democracy.
Archbishop Gomez said that the current administration is continuing the policy under President Obama, who deported nearly 3 million people. “President Trump seems intent on deporting even more,” added the archbishop. “But deportation alone is not an immigration policy.”
He said criminals who threaten the safety of communities should be deported, but the “wide net” of the government is catching “a lot of good people — ordinary moms and dads who have been in this country for decades; young people starting their careers; small-business owners.”
According to Archbishop Gomez, there is not enough trust to achieve comprehensive immigration reform, a longtime goal of the U.S. bishops. He suggested a slow, piecemeal approach may be more constructive. His outline for immigration reform included security concerns, but he said that a well-functioning visa system would be the best “border wall.” With appropriate tracking, such a system would ensure enough visas for agricultural and construction workers, for service workers and unskilled labor, as well as for hi-tech and other professional jobs. Non-ministerial religious workers also need to be included in a visa system.
The archbishop’s column follows soon after prominent comments from Pope Francis. On Aug. 21 the Vatican released the Pope’s message for the 2018 World Day of Migrants and Refugees, to be observed by the Catholic Church on Jan. 14. “Collective and arbitrary expulsions of migrants and refugees are not suitable solutions, particularly where people are returned to countries which cannot guarantee respect for human dignity and fundamental rights,” Pope Francis said, stressing the need to increase access to humanitarian visas and to reunite separated families.
Pope Francis cited the words of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who in his own message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees in 2007 said the family is “a place and resource of the culture of life and a factor for the integration of values.” Francis stressed support for family reunification, including grandparents, grandchildren and siblings, “independent of financial requirements.” He urged greater assistance for migrants, asylum seekers and refugees with disabilities.
Other backers of DACA youth include the Catholic bishops of Nebraska. On Aug. 29, they said these young people have become “contributors to our economy, veterans of our military, academic standouts in our universities, and leaders in our parishes.” “To the DACA youth here in Nebraska, please know that the Catholic Church stands in solidarity with you,” said the bishops of the Nebraska Catholic Conference. “It is our desire to accompany you in the anxieties and fears you face through this journey.”