NEW YORK — Five years after the Obama administration enacted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, protecting immigrants who entered the United States as minors from deportation, President Donald Trump has decided he will end it if Congress does not come up with a permanent solution before March 5, 2018.
The decision was announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday, and now leaves an estimated 800,000 individuals with an uncertain legal fate, prompting widespread fear and uncertainty among the nation’s immigrant communities and their allies.
The DACA program allowed qualifying individuals to apply for a permit to stay in the United States for employment or to continue their education.
In announcing the decision, Sessions said, “I’m here to announce today that the program known as DACA that was effectuated under the Obama administration is being rescinded.”
Sessions referred to DACA as an “open-ended circumvention of immigration laws” and an “unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch.”
DACA, claimed Sessions, “denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same illegal aliens to take those jobs.”
By establishing a six-month delay for the program’s end, the administration has given Congress an opportunity to take action. Partisan gridlock, however, seems to jeopardize the likelihood of a solution, although Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, both Catholics, have indicated a willingness to work together.
Throughout his campaign for president, Trump pledged to end DACA “on day one.” Following his election, however, the president appeared to have softened, saying he would make a decision on the matter “with heart,” going on to assure DACA beneficiaries that they had nothing to fear.
The decision comes in response to an ultimatum from ten state attorney generals, who had threatened to mount a legal challenge in an unfriendly court if the president did not decide to end the program by September 5. Last Friday, the Attorney General of Tennessee announced that he was withdrawing his support from the lawsuit, citing “the human element” at stake.
Dylan Corbett, executive director of the Hope Border Institute, described today’s decision as “devastating” and a “betrayal.”
In an interview with Crux, Corbett said the decision “sends a sign of this administration’s commitment to pursue an anti-immigrant, racist agenda and that they are not looking to govern the entire country.”
“There hasn’t been a coherent immigration policy that has come out of the White House since the president has taken office,” said Corbett. “I think this is a wake-up call that the president is really moving in a direction of mass deportations and that should concern Catholics everywhere and the leadership of the Church across the country.”
“We’re going to have to think about a national strategy,” Corbett told Crux, “and reevaluate things like sanctuary churches and exactly what we do because what this decision means is whether it’s now, tomorrow, or in six months, the fates of almost one million people across the country are in jeopardy.”
U.S. Catholic bishops have been resolute in their support of DACA since its enactment.
In a statement on Tuesday, President of the USCCB Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, along with USCCB Vice President, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angles, Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, chairman, Committee on Migration, and Bishop Joseph J. Tyson of Yakima, chairman of the Subcommittee on Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees, and Travelers, called the cancellation of the program “reprehensible.”
“This decision is unacceptable and does not reflect who we are as Americans,” they wrote. “We pledge our support to work on finding an expeditious means of protection for DACA youth…As people of faith, we say to DACA youth – regardless of your immigration status, you are children of God and welcome in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church supports you and will advocate for you.”
Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago deemed the decision as “heartless” and called on Congress to “act decisively and swiftly.”
Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington described the decision to rescind DACA as “very regrettable” and “harmful,” while Cardinal Joe Tobin of Newark referred to it as an “abandonment of humanity.”
In the weeks leading up to the decision, many individual bishops reiterated their support for the program.
Vasquez, along with Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, and Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of Catholic Legal Immigration Network, sent a letter on August 30 urging the administration not to end the program.
“A decision to end this program would turn our nation’s back on immigrant youth who are seeking to reach their full God-given potential and fulfill the promise of gratefully giving back to the only country most have ever known,” they wrote.
In another statement of Friday, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia said, “Part of being pro-life and pro-religious freedom — both of them vital issues that need our strong support — is a willingness to look past these specific struggles to the dignity of the whole person.”
“It’s one thing to tighten the security of our borders and to deport violent criminals. It’s a different and much uglier thing to punish young people who’ve grown up in the United States as their home,” he continued.
In a statement last week from Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburg, he urged all Catholics to call the President and their legislators in support of DACA. “Do it for the dreamers. Do it for Jesus,” he wrote.
“When Jesus was a child, his parents fled with him across the border to another country to save his life,” wrote Zubik.
“Today our nation is home to many young people whose parents carried them across the border as children, often to save them from violence or the kind of grinding poverty that leads to sickness and death. They did not make the choice to cross the border without documents, others made it for them,” he said.
On Monday, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn dedicated his Labor Day message to DACA beneficiaries.
“It was their parents who first dreamed of a life in America where there is the opportunity to find jobs, make an honest living and give your child a solid education. Now their children, who came through no fault of their own, face deportation to countries to which they feel no connection. They only know America as their home,” wrote DiMarzio.
On Tuesday, Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston joined with Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey in an op-ed for the Boston Globe.
“This program was a promise from our government to these children that playing by the rules would pay off,” they wrote. “The young people registered in the DACA program are exemplary. They have followed the rules. All they ask in return is a path to citizenship in the only country they’ve ever known.”
Prior to today’s announcement, the Catholic Bishops of California issued a statement in which they decried the president’s derision of immigrants as “bad hombres.”
“DACA students are not the so-called ‘bad hombres,’ an insidious label used to instill fear in others and feed the racism and nativism that unfortunately is rearing its ugly head in our cities,” they wrote.
John Garvey, President of the Catholic University of America, also issued a statement expressing his disappointment at today’s decision and concern about whether Trump would be willing to sign potential legislation enacted by Congress.
“I hope that the President’s decision to discontinue the DACA program does not signify an unwillingness to sign legislation providing the same relief, if Congress can finally agree to address this serious concern,” he said.
“Our country’s moral quality is measured by the way we treat those who most need our assistance. DACA has given young people a shot at an education and a better life. Elimination without a more comprehensive solution means abandonment. We can and must do better,” Garvey said.
Yet despite today’s disappointing news, advocates such as Corbett insist this is far from over and are looking for the Church to continue to lead the way in this fight.
“In my experience, I’ve never seen the bishops more united across the country more united on this issue,” he told Crux.
This story will be updated.