GREEN BAY – President Donald Trump’s Sept. 5 ruling to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an executive order that was implemented under President Barack Obama, has caused distress in the Hispanic community and led church leaders to condemn the action.
The Catholic bishops of Wisconsin, in a statement released Sept. 8, affirmed their support for the program’s continuation.
“Most of the nearly 8,000 DACA Wisconsinites … know no other home than the U.S., having been brought here in their youth through no choice of their own,” said the bishops. They urged Congress to “find a legislative solution that protects DACA youth. (The statement is available in both English and Spanish on the Wisconsin Catholic Conference website, wisconsincatholic.org.)
In an effort to ease fears and answer questions about the ruling, St. Willebrord Parish hosted an impromptu question-and-answer meeting for the community on Sept. 6. Leading the discussion was immigration attorney John Sesini, managing partner for Sesini Law Group in Milwaukee.
Sesini provides free consultation on immigration questions at Casa ALBA Melanie in Green Bay, which grew out of a 25-year ministry to the Hispanic community at St. Willebrord Parish. The Casa ALBA Melanie staff has processed more than 500 DACA applications and renewals, according to Sr. Melanie Maczka, the program’s executive director.
Created in June 2012, DACA allows certain undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors to obtain a renewable, two-year protection from deportation. It also gives them an opportunity to receive a work permit. Around 790,000 young people have received the DACA status, according to the Pew Research Center. About 80 percent of those with DACA status entered the United States when they were age 10 or younger.
Sesini told the crowd of about 75 people attending the meeting that the situation for DACA immigrants is fluid. What is certain is that the Department of Homeland Security immediately suspended accepting DACA applications. Current recipients would not be affected until March 5.
“Those who have not filed for DACA as of Sept. 5, 2017, cannot apply,” said Sesini. “For those individuals, I guess it has been terminated.”
He said current recipients, whose work authorization cards are set to expire by March 4, 2018, can apply for renewal. “But you have to apply by Oct. 5,” Sesini said. “If the government doesn’t receive the application by Oct. 5, they are not going to renew your application.”
What is unknown, said Sesini, is what happens after March 5.
“To be perfectly honest, I don’t know. And I don’t think the president knows,” said Sesini. “One day he says he’s going to terminate it completely, and he tweets last night that if Congress can’t get anything done, ‘I’m going to revisit it in six months.’ What does that mean?”
He said that the Department for Homeland Security’s website’s “talking points” includes a suggestion that DACA recipients “get ready to self-deport.”
“I’m going to tell you people, don’t get ready to self-deport,” he said. Because of the unknown status of DACA, including possible legal challenges, Sesini encouraged people to go about their lives.
“They are trying to scare you guys. We are going to fight like crazy,” he said. “That’s basically all I have to say.”
“I would encourage everybody who’s going to school to keep going to school, and, if you’re working, keep working,” said Sr. Melanie. “Don’t lose the time and the opportunity to continue your studies and your work because we don’t know” what will happen.
Also attending the meeting and leading the opening and closing prayers were Norbertine Frs. Andy Cribben, pastor of St. Willebrord, and Ken De Groot, former pastor.
Captain Kevin Warych of the Green Bay Police Department also spoke at the meeting. He told the attendees that Green Bay police offers are not in the business of immigration enforcement.
“As a police department, we want to make sure that we calm the fears (of) people in the community,” he said. “I can understand your concern, but I can tell you that every police office wearing this uniform is there to help you and protect you — most importantly, the kids, our future leaders.”
Warych read a message on behalf of Police Chief Andrew Smith.
“With times of uncertainty and confusion among our immigrant community the Green Bay Police Department wants to ensure the entire community that we are here to help, protect and serve you,” said Warych. “The courts have ruled that immigration enforcement is the role of the federal government. Local police agencies like the GBPD are in the business of stopping criminal activity and keeping our community safe, not enforcing federal immigration laws. Here in Green Bay, nothing has changed with the way we approach people’s residency status, and I will continue to work towards making Driver Cards a reality in Wisconsin.”
In his closing remarks, Sesini told the group that they have a lot of power and support.
“Let’s don’t forget the power that the Hispanic community has — and you have a lot of friends,” he said. “There’s a lot the law can do. It’s too complicated to go into, but there are a lot of things that we can do.”