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Time for Congress to act: Pass the DREAM ACT

Archbishop Wenski's column for November edition of the Florida Catholic

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On Nov. 12, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on the legality of an Obama-era executive order called DACA (Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals) that granted a quasi-legal status to about 800,000 people who arrived in the U.S. in, or fell into, an irregular status when they were still children. If DACA is rescinded, some 800,000 people will be subject to potential deportation.

Many of these DREAMERS, as they have come to be known, are members of our parishes and broader communities here in South Florida. They are our co-workers, tax-payers like the rest of us. Some are U.S. Armed Services veterans. And, to be eligible for DACA, they had to show that they were in school or graduated from high school and that they had clean records with no criminal history. Since they arrived as children, brought here by their parents, they cannot be blamed for their irregular status – and most have little memory of their countries or origin.

Efforts of the Trump administration to end DACA have been stymied by the courts – which is why the issue is being argued in the Supreme Court with a decision expected by spring.

Previously, President Obama had not originally supported a DACA measure because he was unsure that he had the legal authority to implement it. But when Congress failed to pass a version of what has come to be called the DREAM ACT, he issued DACA, generally modeling it on provisions of the DREAM ACT, arguing that it was within the executive’s “prosecutorial discretion” to grant temporary relief to this special class of people, namely children who were brought to the U.S. by their parents without legal status. A similar effort to expand this “prosecutorial discretion” to parents of U.S. citizens or legal residents, called DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans), was stopped by the courts and never implemented.

While the beneficiaries of DACA are not considered to be “unlawfully present” in the U.S., they have no permanent legal status and no path to U.S. citizenship. In fact, DACA status must be renewed every two years at the cost of $495. But losing DACA will cost them and our country more dearly. Without work permits and subject to deportation, they would lose their jobs; deprived of gainful employment, they would be forced back into the shadows. Again, many have started families – and more than 70% of DACA recipients have U.S. citizen spouses or children. Deportation would bring about needless separation of families.

The Supreme Court will make their decision on the merits of the law. But Congress makes the law. Thus, the solution for the plight of the DREAMERS and other similarly situated immigrants lies with Congress. Congress has mostly shirked its responsibility – the last time Congress was poised to act on the DREAMERS a court order barring the Administration’s plan to end DACA took the pressure off, allowing legislators to once again “kick the can down the road.”

No matter how the Supreme Court rules, Congress should act now. The House has passed a bill, HR 6, which offers a path for DREAMERS and TPS (Temporary Protective Status) holders, like certain Salvadorans, Hondurans and Haitians. The Senate should act now and pass a new version of the DREAM ACT (S. 814) and then both chambers can work to reconcile the language of the bills in conference.

The DREAMERS and their U.S. citizen family members need a resolution of their status now. These young people who are already contributing positively to our nation certainly talk like Americans. (They have been educated here in the United States and speak English, in most cases, better than they speak their parents’ language.) They think like Americans and, like Americans, they love this country (some have served in the military). Shouldn’t we give them a chance to DREAM like Americans?

Comments from readers

Gustavo - 11/22/2019 12:53 PM
President Trump was willing to give the “Dreamers” amnesty in exchange for funding of the border wall. The Democrats refused. When you negotiate you must give up something to get something in return. The Church needs to focus on its mission; which is the salvation of souls. Not being social justice warriors.

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