This past summer, I wrote a column about immigration, in which I encouraged all of us to learn the stories of our immigrant brothers and sisters. Recently, I had the privilege to listen to the personal stories of five young women, who are DACA recipients and live in our diocese.
The DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), instituted by President Obama, allows undocumented individuals who came to this country as children to apply for legal status, enabling them to remain in this country, obtain a driver’s license, and work legally. In order to qualify for DACA, they must meet several key requirements, and DACA must be renewed every two years. This past fall, President Trump announced that DACA would be ending in March of this year unless Congress enacts a permanent solution for these young people; often referred to as “Dreamers.”
While I recognize the decisions surrounding DACA and immigration are generally quite complex, I also realize how important it is to understand the way these policy decisions are affecting real people in our neighborhoods. In today’s column, I’d like to share with you some of the personal testimonies of the DACA participants I was fortunate to meet recently.
As I listened to each person’s story, I was astounded by the many sacrifices that were made by the families who came here. When these young women arrived in the United States, their parents typically worked long hours, sometimes in multiple jobs, in order to provide for their children. Often, as young girls, they took on important roles in helping raise their siblings or serving as translators for their parents.
As a result, they were forced to grow up fast. One participant told me that during her high school years, she was putting in 13-hour days between school, work and extra college-credit classes. She did this in hopes that she could work her way up and take care of her parents someday as they reached retirement.
Another participant said of her parents, “They’ve given up so much for me. I want to make them proud.” Each of the participants shared similar accounts of sacrifices they and their family members made for each other, beautifully illustrating the Christian concept of love, which is to will the good of another.
Through this visit, I also came to understand that DACA provides a lifeline for many young people. Before DACA, one woman said, she wondered if graduating high school even mattered, since it would be so difficult to get a job without documentation. When DACA became available, however, she received her work authorization, and at 16, she was able to work three different jobs to help pay the rent. Today she is attending college, has a job and dreams of one day being a teacher.
Another woman shared how DACA helped enable her to volunteer at the school her children attend. Before DACA, she could not volunteer because the school required a background check.
All of these personal stories showed me how important DACA has been in the lives and futures of these families. DACA has been instrumental in helping these women build their life with a promising future, and has empowered them to fully engage in their communities, while reflecting their God-given dignity.
The current uncertainty of the DACA program accompanies great fear and anxiety for these same women. One young woman broke into tears as she described her fear that all her hard work will be relinquished if DACA is taken away. As I listened to the emotion in her voice, my heart broke as well.
Another woman described how she and her husband were able to purchase a home because of DACA. If DACA is rescinded, however, she wonders what will happen to her family if they have to return to Mexico, including her children who are U.S. citizens. Facing this fear and uncertainty is a daunting challenge for these young women and their families.
After listening to all of these stories, I have to believe that we, as a nation of freedom and liberty, are capable of finding a solution to this issue. We must remember, that all DACA recipients arrived here with their parents who sought better lives for their families; something all of us want for our own families.
Because they came here as children, the United States of America is the only country they know. It is home to them. As citizens, we must not allow DACA recipients to be used as political pawns, but rather, we must urge our political leaders to support a legislative solution for Dreamers. While this challenge is quite complex, I am confident that with God’s help, we can find a way!
In closing, I want to offer my prayerful support for Dreamers and their loved ones. Thank you for your positive contributions to our schools, our parishes and our communities. Please know that I am praying for you every day during this time of uncertainty. May the peace of Jesus Christ, which surpasses all understanding, be with you and give you comfort in your time of need, and may God bless you always!
Follow Bishop Ricken on Twitter, @BpDavidRicken