BALTIMORE — It’s a population that almost every bishop in the United States comes into contact with: 700,000 young adults brought into the country as children without documents.
So, it was natural that on the day the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on an important case involving them, even as they were conducting regular business during the fall meeting of the U.S. Conference Catholic Bishops in Baltimore Nov. 11-13, some bishops were monitoring the situation before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The court heard arguments Nov. 12 on whether the Trump administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, is legal and its end can proceed.
Bishops from California, Texas, Kentucky — and big and small towns in between — had issued statements, written to their hometown newspapers or voiced their opinion in some other way, trying to get the word out about what they think should happen with the hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients in the country.
“It’s an issue for all of us,” said Bishop Joseph C. Bambera of Scranton, Pennsylvania.
“And it’s one that I hope can be resolved in a way that respects, especially the lives of those young people who have been here, who have known this as their only home,” he told Catholic News Service in an interview Nov. 12.
In a Nov. 11 opinion piece for the Lexington Herald-Leader newspaper, Bishop John E. Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, urged the court to go beyond a ruling and help the young adults caught in political crosshairs.
“The Supreme Court will hear arguments concerning whether the program was ended lawfully under the Administrative Procedures Act,” he wrote.
“I hope that Supreme Court allows this program to continue and removes the conditions of constant fear and uncertainty that affect these young and productive members of our society,” Bishop Stowe continued. “DACA recipients have already made significant contributions to our nation and should be protected and ultimately provided with a path to permanent residency and citizenship.”
In an interview with CNS Nov. 12, he said DACA beneficiaries had proven to be upstanding citizens, had sought higher education, paid taxes and fees, and now are raising families and working.
“So, why should they live in constant fear and wait for the political winds to change based on policy when we could find a way to provide a pathway to citizenship for them?” he asked.
Bishop Stowe said he comes into contact with many young adults who benefit from DACA and their families and what he hears is the constant fear they live under.
“I mean, how do they plan their lives if they don’t know if (DACA or another law to help them) is going to be approved or not approved?” he said. “Should they re-register? Can they get into a college or are they going to start a program and then not qualify for aid anymore? Are they going to get a job and then lose their job if they register? Are they going to put their family at risk?
“All of those questions just provoke fear, and these are people who want to be contributing members of society, who have made their home in the U.S. and have contributed to the U.S. already,” he added.
For Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas, and the diocese’s Auxiliary Bishop Mario A. Aviles, the outcome of the case may affect a wide swath of people in their diocese’s border region in the Rio Grande Valley.
DACA recipients work as teachers there or have businesses or hold jobs important to those communities, Bishop Flores said. They’re also, like many denizens of the border region, part of families with mixed immigration situations and if one of them loses his or her status to stay in the country, it affects the lives of the entire family.
“It adds to the complexity of the situation at the border,” said Bishop Aviles, who worked with immigrant families protected under DACA as a priest in the region and now as bishop.
DACA recipients are “committed” to the country, he said, and they consider the United States their country.
“It’s all they know,” he said, and it would be cruel to tell them they’re not part of the only country they’ve ever known.
“They don’t know if this is going to continue or not, or for how long,” he said of the protections the young adults receive from DACA, such as a reprieve from deportation and a work permit. “I know them and their families and they’re people who have completed their studies, have work and everything, but they don’t know for how long and they think this is the most terrible thing, the uncertainty of not knowing what’s going to happen.”
For those who argue that the country has laws and those laws must be followed, Bishop Flores said others should consider that laws are set to observe justice and not the other way around and that the U.S. is a country with a tradition of respecting the law while also being cognizant the law is supposed to uphold justice. If that’s not the case, he said, then the law must be adjusted.
The most ancient Catholic tradition is that the law must adapt to serve human beings and, as Jesus Christ said, “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” he said.
From that perspective, Bishop Flores said, the law needs to serve the good of human beings and there’s nothing wrong with “adjusting” the law to serve people, which would be the just thing to do in this case. And so DACA recipients, who have worked, studied and have formed families, should have some kind of recourse.
“The circumstances ask us to give them recognition that they are Americans, and deserve the respect of everyone,” Bishop Flores said. “They are families that want to contribute and are contributing. But people are suffering, and they live with this uncertainty of life and it’s very difficult. Their hopes depend on the country treating them with justice.”