The bishops of the United States came out forcefully in opposition to President Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Can you explain why this is such an important moral issue?
It might be good to start with what DACA is and what it is intended to do. DACA is an immigration policy established through executive action by the Obama administration in 2012 that allows certain undocumented immigrants who meet select criteria and enter the U.S. as minors to receive a two-year period of deferred action from deportation, which could be renewed every two years. It also makes them eligible for a work permit and ongoing education. The program was designed for children who came here with their parents, so the decision to enter the country illegally was not their own. They were assured they would be able to be educated and be a positive part of the U.S. work force. This has absolutely nothing to do with those undocumented immigrants who have come to this country and have committed crimes. We’re well aware that many believe President Obama should have gone through Congress for legislation and not established the program through executive action. That being said, our country nonetheless has made a commitment to these 800,000 young people, and in some way, they could become the victims of our broken politics. For us as Christians, this is a moral issue because we are supposed to be people of our word.
If President Trump rescinds DACA, would that mean those individuals would be subject to deportation?
It would appear to be so because they would be here illegally. It is our understanding that cancellation of DACA will come in six months and that the president has asked Congress to take action on this issue before then. This poses another moral question: how can we in good conscience separate families? Some members of their family would live here, and they would have to return to a country of origin that they have never known. None of what has happened to them has been their choice.
Immigration reform is a volatile issue that seems to have evaded any rational debate and decision-making.
There are many strong opinions about immigration, and most often people feel passionately about their position. Even though the teachings of the church may disagree with some of those positions, we nevertheless respect the right of a person to his or her opinion. At the same time, it’s very important that we understand that the teaching of the church calls us to reach out to those who are in need and to welcome the stranger.
What is the church’s position on immigration?
The church has never said that the United States should simply open its borders and let everybody in. The church believes people should go through a legal process to come to the United States. That being said, there are many undocumented people who are here in this country. We need to implement a pastoral and practical response for those individuals, particularly those who have been good and law-abiding and contributing to our society and our economy. The church teaches that a person has a right to live in another country in order to avoid persecution, terrorism, violence or inhumane conditions, and other countries around the world should be open to receiving them. Pope Francis has been extraordinarily clear on this point, and he, too, has been attacked because of his theological position.
Can this be settled through legislation in the next six months?
The president has said he would revisit this in six months. He also has said he believes Congress will be able to formulate a new immigration policy, which it has been unable to do for the last 10 years. Most of us believe the immigration system in the United States is broken. It is time that we call upon Congress to act with care and compassion so that our immigration policy can become more just and orderly. The real problem remains: what are we to do with the millions of people who are already here, either through DACA or who are undocumented? These are tough, spiritual questions that require the compassion of Jesus. I would call upon all of us to pray for Congress – and to encourage our Congressional representatives – to carefully evaluate our immigration system. We have the ultimate responsibility – and we have the ability – to collaborate on a permanent legislative solution that will protect the safety and well-being of these young people who have contributed to and enriched our society. This situation leaves us with four questions: 1. What is legal? 2. What is just? 3. What is compassionate? 4. What would Jesus do? These questions lead me to prayer. Please join me.
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