On Tuesday, Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas joined with 1,300 Catholic educators to issue what they called a “moral mandate” to preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides protection from deportation for children of undocumented immigrants brought into the U.S. as minors.
In particular, they have singled out President Donald Trump’s Chief of Staff, John Kelly, calling him “one of the most prominent Catholics in the Administration.” The letter, which was sent to Kelly on Monday, urges him to use his power as an “influential champion for the children and youth who are the next generation of American leaders.”
Notable signatories to the letter include Dr. Patricia McGuire, President of Trinity Washington University; Rev. Michael Shearan, President of the Association of Jesuit Colleges & Universities; and Rev. Joseph McShane, President of Fordham University.
DACA is a federal program that allows immigrants who came to the United States as minors to work or continue their education. The program, which was started by the Obama administration in 2012, protects an estimated 800,000 immigrants from being deported.
In July, Kelly told members of Congress that while he personally supports the program, he could not guarantee that the Trump administration would continue to support it or defend it in court.
During the 2016 presidential campaign Trump vowed to end the program, yet shortly after his election seemed open to reconsidering it. “We’re looking at it with great heart,” he said at the time.
In recent weeks, the president has indicated that he has once more decided to end the program. A final decision is expected as early as this week, in response to an ultimatum from ten state attorneys general demanding that the program end by September 5th or face a legal challenge in court.
On a Tuesday press call organized by the advocacy group Faith in Public Life, Seitz said he was angered by the possibility that the administration would end DACA.
“Christians are fundamentally loving, forgiving people, just as Jesus lived and is, but there are some things that angered Jesus and they should anger us as well. Some things should anger us enough to have the courage to speak out to people against their politically motivated assaults on the innocents,” he said.
“And that’s the way I felt when I read that our state’s attorney general, along with nine others, were petitioning President Trump to stop accepting new applications for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals [DACA]…and also not to renew the applications of those that had already applied. That angered me, and it still does.”
Seitz said the recent actions were “a direct assault on DREAMers and I felt that it called for a direct response….so that’s what I gave.”
DREAM refers to the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors legislation that would grant permanent protection to minors with DACA status.
John Gerhing, Catholic Program Director for Faith and Public Life, praised Seitz’s willingness to directly call out particular individuals.
“I’m grateful that Bishop Seitz understands the urgency right now, and isn’t afraid to challenge political leaders who want to do grave harm to immigrants,” said John Gehring, the Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life.
“There is nothing theoretical or abstract about the fear and desperation in immigrant communities. I hope the bishop’s moral courage in naming what needs to be named can inspire other bishops to be bolder,” he told Crux.
“President Trump talks a lot about American greatness, but you can’t be a great country and a country that institutionalizes cruelty as a policy,” said Gehring.
Earlier this summer, Bishop Joe S. Vásquez, Chair of the United States Conference Catholic of Bishops’ Migration Committee and Bishop of Austin, Texas, reiterated the U.S. bishops’ strong support of DACA.
“DACA youth are contributors to our economy, veterans of our military, academic standouts in our universities, and leaders in our parishes. These young people entered the U.S. as children and know America as their only home. The dignity of every human being, particularly that of our children and youth, must be protected,” he said.
“I urge the administration to continue administering the DACA program, and to publicly ensure that DACA youth are not priorities for deportation,” said Vasquez.
In July, Seitz also issued a pastoral letter on immigration, the first on the topic from a bishop in a decade.
“I am bishop of a flock frightened by the flashing lights of police cars in the rearview mirror, who wonder if this family outing or that drive home from work will be the last,” he wrote.
“I ask lawmakers and policymakers in other parts of the country to end the demonization of our border, our border residents and migrants. Migrants and migration are not problems to be solved, but are rather ‘a great source for humanity’s development,’” wrote Seitz.
In an essay published on Tuesday in Angelus, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles argued, “It would be a tragedy to cancel DACA and declare these 800,000 young people ‘illegal’ and begin deporting them.
“They did not make the decision to enter this country in violation of our laws, and in fairness, we cannot hold them accountable. America is the only country they know, and the vast majority are working hard to make their own contribution to the American dream,” he wrote.
This week’s letter is not the first time Catholic educators have spoken out in support of DACA.
In November 2016, over 70 Catholic higher education leaders of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities released a statement of solidarity in support of qualified DACA students.
“Undocumented students need assistance in confronting legal and financial uncertainty and in managing the accompanying anxieties,” they wrote.
“We pledge to support these students—through our campus counseling and ministry support, through legal resources from those campuses with law schools and legal clinics, and through whatever other services we may have at our disposal.”