Promoting good policy for DACA youth across the United States
April 18, 2019
Before I jump into my article, I encourage everybody to attend the annual Bishops’ Pro-Life Banquet and Conference Sept. 29-30 in Lincoln. You can find more information and register at www.necatholic.org.
Back in the day, I served as a youth minister in Schuyler for nearly a decade. Not only was it transformative in my love of Jesus Christ, I received crucial formation and mentoring from my parish priests and fellow youth ministers. I also was deeply formed and touched by my experience with the teenagers in our Life Teen youth ministry program.
Many of the teens were Latino and came from documented immigrant families. Some of these teens were undocumented immigrants and brought to the United States as infants and children.
As I helped lead teens closer to Christ, they all had natural anxieties about their future. But for the teens who were undocumented immigrants and brought to this country at an early age, their anxieties took on a different character.
These teens were not consumed with worry about their ACT scores, college, or what kind of job they would pursue after high school or college. Instead, they worried about basic questions of survival: Will I ever obtain any sort of legal immigrant status? Will I get legal employment authorization? If so, when will this happen and how will I live in the meantime?
These basic questions of survival raised different types of anxieties, the kind that strike at the core of psychological welfare. These questions also raised other questions about their purpose in life.
Toward the end of my time in youth ministry, President Barack Obama issued an executive action, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DACA established certain criteria that, if met, would provide lawful presence and employment authorization for a two-year period to these undocumented teens and young adults. DACA essentially provided some certainty that they would not be deported and could find lawful employment.
I witnessed an immediate sense of relief and renewal in those who applied and received deferred action. Relief, because they knew there was a temporary reprieve in their immigration problem. Renewal, because they could once again live with the hope that comes with youth.
Recently, President Donald Trump rescinded the DACA program and urged Congress to provide a legislative solution for DACA youth (also known as DREAMers after the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, which has not yet become law). This situation has understandably reignited the anxieties and fears of DREAMers.
The rescission of the DACA program also has reignited fierce and polarized debate across the country. On the one hand, many have argued that the initial executive action by President Obama was unlawful executive overreach that violates the separation of powers fundamental to our constitutional design – and President Trump was justified (and duty-bound) in rescinding DACA.
On the other hand, some have argued that President Obama was justified in his executive action and that it was a proper exercise of the executive’s prosecutorial discretion on immigration matters, while many others have argued that DACA is a critical protection for countless undocumented youth brought into this country through no fault of their own.
While the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Nebraska Catholic Conference have supported President Obama’s executive action, the validity and rescission of the executive action is an issue of prudential judgment. Notably, a prudential judgment still requires that a person act from principles of human reason and Catholic social teaching.
Regardless of the debate about DACA, it is abundantly clear that we are at a critical point: Congress must act to protect the human dignity of our DREAMers.
These young men and women have become contributors to our economy, veterans of our military, academic standouts in our universities, and leaders in our parishes. The United States and our local Nebraska communities are the only home many of them know.
DREAMers deserve permanent legislative solutions, rooted in justice and charity. Through such a legislative resolution we can provide DREAMers with the legal and political freedom they have desired for many years. Meanwhile, we pray that DREAMers will continue to draw more closely to Christ, who offers the greatest freedom – spiritual freedom – regardless of our political or legal situation.
Tom Venzor is executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, with headquarters in Lincoln. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.