Support the Dreamers

Immigration is a very contentious issue in our current political climate. For years, there have been efforts to reform what everyone considers to be a deeply flawed immigration system. But the federal government has consistently failed to produce comprehensive solutions. The result is that important issues remain unresolved, political opinions and feelings grow more and more inflamed, and compromises become more difficult to find.

The dilemma of the so-called “Dreamers” is a perfect example of how real people are caught in the crossfire. The “Dreamers” are people who came to the United States as children and who do not have any legal immigration status.

To be a Dreamer, and to qualify for DACA, the person has to have arrived in the US before 2007 when they were under 16 years old, and they can’t be older than 30 as of 2012. They have to have lived continuously in the US since 2007. They can’t have any criminal convictions or pose a threat to national security. They have to have graduated from a US high school or be enrolled in school now, or served in the armed forces. It’s estimated that about 1.3 million people would be eligible for DACA, but about 800,000 people actually have it, including about 42,000 New Yorkers.

The average age of DACA recipients when they arrived in the US was 6.5 years old. Many arrived as infants. They have grown up in our country, they have gone to school and worked here, some have served in the military, and they have become part of our work force and our communities. This is the only home they’ve known. They sit in the same church pews that we do. They are our neighbors. Deporting DACA recipients makes no sense. It would send them back to countries that are poor, violent and politically unstable, places they are unfamiliar with and they may not even speak the language.

In 2012, President Obama granted these people a temporary exemption from deportation, in a program that is called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”). That program was based on a bill called the DREAM Act, which has bipartisan support in Congress but that has not yet been enacted because of the very difficult politics of immigration.

What the DACA program involves is widely misunderstood — it’s not an “amnesty”, it doesn’t create “open borders”, it doesn’t forsake our nation’s right to enforce our laws, and it doesn’t reward people for breaking the law.

DACA was a short-term fix for the larger issue of what to do about the Dreamers as a whole. In the long run, the only real solution is legislation like the DREAM Act. The bishops have seen this. USCCB and many individual bishops have expressed their support for the DREAM Act, and polls show that wide majorities of Americans — as much as 90% in some polls — support a policy that would allow the Dreamers to stay in America.

The Bishops of the United States have called on all of us to contact our legislators on Monday, February 26, which they are calling “National Catholic Call-In Day to Protect Dreamers”. USCCB has a great deal of information on the Dreamers, DACA, and how we can help them. The Bishops have said “Our faith compels us to stand with the vulnerable, including our immigrant brothers and sisters.  We have done so continually, but we must show our support and solidarity now in a special way.  Now is the time for action.”

Taking action is very easy — here are the instructions. All we have to do is call the Capitol (855-589-5698), ask for the offices of Senators Schumer and Gillibrand and our own Representative, and then convey a very straight-forward message:

I urge you to support a bipartisan, common-sense, and humane solution for Dreamers: Protect Dreamers from deportation and provide them with a path to citizenship. Reject proposals that undermine family immigration or protections for unaccompanied children. As a Catholic, I know that families are not “chains,” but a blessing to be protected. Act now to protect Dreamers, our immigrant brothers and sisters.

The Dreamers should not be used as bargaining chips for political deals. Our Bishops have called on all Catholics to show support for our neighbors and to bring a Catholic perspective into this very difficult and contentious debate. Please call your legislators to support the Dreamers.

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