Even though she has been living in the shadows for years, she is an excellent student at a very prestigious university in the United States, one who is doing very well in all of her classes. In fact, she has a 4.0 average.
However, the first few weeks of 2018 have been difficult, and this young woman recently told her mother that she was seriously thinking of returning to live in Mexico with her grandmother, since her future in the United States is so uncertain.
If she goes, she will divide her family, since two of her brothers were born here and are American citizens. This woman is a “Dreamer” with DACA status.
So, we begin a new year with the same doubts and fears over immigration. Our leaders now face an important deadline to preserve DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. There will be a terrible humanitarian crisis if DACA ends because this program protects about 800,000 young people. These persons were brought to the United States as children by undocumented parents or family members.
They are not legal, but through no fault of their own. These “Dreamers” have lived in this country for almost their entire lives. This highly organized group of young people argues that after being raised and educated in the United States, they are Americans who only lack legal recognition. Their dominant language is English, and their customs and experiences are very American.
President Obama created the DACA program by executive order in 2012. DACA affords these young people a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and a work permit. In September 2017, President Trump announced that he would end DACA in March 2018, but called on Congress to come up with a solution to keep the program in place.
Advocates in this nation have urged the passage of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act to provide a pathway to citizenship for the DACA youth. In early January, President Trump and a bipartisan group of lawmakers met to discuss a measure that would keep DACA intact but would also include Trump’s demands for a border wall and other security measures.
That same day, Jan. 9, a U.S. District Court judge in San Francisco blocked Trump’s decision to end DACA, saying that the government must now start to accept renewal applications again from persons already in the program. This ruling will certainly be appealed.
The United States government cannot agree on the status of the “Dreamers” or on any immigration issue. At midnight on Jan. 20, the United States government was shut down since there was no agreement by the House, Senate and President on the passage of a budget bill that was tied to the future of DACA.
The “Dreamers” show us how broken our immigration system is. They are among the most motivated and successful of all groups in our society — 97 percent of them are in school, working or both. Businesses report that DACA recipients are vital to our economic future. Eight hundred executives from all sectors of the economy have agreed that DACA youths contribute more than $460 billion to our economy and pay $24 billion in taxes.
We should be encouraging these “Dreamers,” not creating obstacles for their future. These are good young people who wish to share their God-given talents with the nation, keep their families together and make their own contribution to the American dream. Almost 85 percent of all Americans agree that we should allow them to stay in the United States.
Of course, we need to secure our borders and to protect ourselves from those who wish us harm. However, border security, the wall and other immigration reforms should be handled separately from DACA. Congress should take its time to debate the issues properly and to create an immigration system that reflects the needs and realities of a 21st- century economy.
However, we should approach the issue of DACA from a moral, religious and compassionate perspective, since the total reform of our broken immigration system should not be tied to DACA and the “Dreamers.”
Father Gus Puleo is pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Norristown.
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