On a day when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Trump administration’s effort to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, the program’s recipients and many of their Catholic advocates celebrated the win and pledged to continue their fight.
“I think it’s fair to characterize it as a victory for DACA recipients and the immigrant rights movement, but it comes with a huge caveat, because the Trump administration could go about taking DACA away in a different way,” Giovana Oaxaca, Government Relations Associate for NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, told Crux.
The Court’s decision means that the Dreamers – approximately 700,000 people who were brought to the United States as children and have since met a list of stringent requirements – will retain protections that currently allow them to live and work without fear of deportation.
Oaxaca, herself a DACA recipient who experienced family separation as a teenager when her mother was picked up and held by U.S. Customs & Border Protection for months “because somebody thought she probably didn’t have papers,” said that Thursday’s court ruling brought a “wave of relief” from fears of a repeat of that family separation experience.
“I knew fundamentally that we were right, but you have to have so much faith that the people making the decision will make the right one,” she added. “As it turned out, we persevered and received a positive ruling, but like DACA itself, it wasn’t handed to us… it took a lot of work and organizing.”
Vicente del Real, a DACA recipient who runs Iskali, a Catholic non-profit serving young Latinas and Latinos in Chicago, told Crux that the Court’s ruling means “a lot of people will sleep better tonight.”
“You really can’t imagine the toll that it has been taking on people,” del Real continued. “I personally know people who have given up on their dreams of becoming whatever it was that they wanted to become because they saw that even after they put themselves through school, they could easily end up with no path to exercise their career.”
“I feel this is a light of hope in these otherwise crazy times,” he added. “At the same time, it’s a reminder that those who I consider to be the real Dreamers – our parents who sacrificed everything to bring us here – still cannot fully participate in our society, even after decades of working jobs that no one else will do.”
Like many of their parents, Dreamers like del Real and Oaxaca still lack certain basic rights, such as the right to vote. “I pay the same taxes as everyone else, yet I don’t have a legal path to express my voice when it comes to electing our public servants… the struggle continues,” del Real said.
Bishops, theologians, and religious orders joined DACA recipients in expressing qualified joy over the Court’s decision.
For the second time this week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops weighed in on a Supreme Court decision for which they had filed an amicus brief, this time in the form of a joint statement from Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the USCCB, and Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville of Washington, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration.
The bishops first addressed DACA youth, calling them a vital part of the Church and pledging to continue to accompany them and their families.
They then turned their attention to President Trump, urging him to “strongly reconsider terminating DACA” in the midst of a pandemic that has left immigrant communities hurting and citing the Gospel’s teachings to “be open and receptive to those in need.”
In their final lines, the bishops encouraged U.S. Senators to “immediately pass legislation that provides a path to citizenship for Dreamers,” concluding that “permanent legislative protection that overcomes partisanship and puts the human dignity and future of Dreamers first is long overdue.”
Theologians with expertise on the ethics of migration and immigration spoke with Crux about the Court’s ruling in the broader contexts of the Church’s traditional understandings of justice and the nation’s checkered past regarding immigration.
Noting that Thursday’s ruling focused on the administration’s “unlawful procedure,” Jeremy Cruz, associate professor of theological ethics at St. John’s University, said that “a Catholic understanding of justice is not limited by liberal notions of ‘orderly procedure’ or ‘procedural fairness’.”
Rather, he argued, justice “requires that we take action to protect and institutionalize inalienable human rights, like the rights to migrate and to associate with neighbors, and the right to secure education adequate for both survival and achievement of full human potential.”
“To do justice,” Cruz continued, “is to take preferential action on the side of the oppressed and excluded people, in order to ensure that the institutional necessities for human thriving are held as a ‘common good’ rather than as mere privileges for those born in to certain citizenship statuses or racial groups.”
Victor Carmona, assistant professor of theology and religious studies at the University of San Diego, told Crux, “The ruling is welcomed and celebrated, but the fight for a more just and loving immigration system continues.”
“Today’s was a narrow ruling that highlights how the fate of DACA holders and their families hangs by a procedural thread,” he added.
“The fact remains that the inaction of Congress and the Administration have forged an immigration system, on behalf of the American People, that is keeping DACA recipients and millions of others in a state of legal limbo—a permanent underclass that lacks permanent residency or citizenship,” continued Carmona. “This ruling does not absolve us of the work ahead.”
Looking towards the next phase in national debates over immigration, Neomi de Anda, president of the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States and an associate professor at the University of Dayton, told Crux that Catholics should be on guard for “statements and tactics that tend to criminalize DACA recipients” or even paint them as more likely to spread COVID-19, noting that “making people into bearers of illness has been a routine story around immigrants.”
“DACA recipients have already been held to a much higher standard than most Americans because they’ve been heavily scrutinized as they went through a very strenuous process,” de Anda said.
Religious orders and advocacy groups also added their voices to the public Catholic response to Thursday’s court ruling.
Sister Patricia McDermott, president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, told Crux, “The Sisters of Mercy, arriving as immigrants to the US in 1843, accompanied immigrants. Sisters of Mercy addressed their energies and resources to support the life and dignity of immigrants over these many decades.”
In their official statement, the Sisters of Mercy said that the decision “affirms what we the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas have believed in our hearts all along. These young immigrants are our neighbors, they share our pews, they are in our high schools and universities and they are here to stay!”
They also urged “legislative action that will provide a permanent solution and give DACA recipients the peace of mind they deserve” and committed to working towards that legislation.
A joint statement from several national organizations associated with the Jesuits welcomed the ruling and urged specific action from the U.S. Senate, calling them to “pass a clean Dream Act in order to provide DACA recipients with security and a pathway to citizenship.”
Calling the Dream Act “not only the right thing to do” but also “a practical choice which benefits our country,” the Jesuit groups asked U.S. senators to “rise above the usual divisions and act for the common good.”