By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT – More than 2,000 DACA recipients in Iowa contribute to the state’s wellbeing but their future is in jeopardy without legislation to protect their status, their peers and allies said during a Dec. 14 press conference outside diocesan headquarters. They urged U.S. Senators Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst and other members of Congress “to enact permanent protections for as many DACA recipients as possible.”
“I’m a proud DACA recipient raised in rural Iowa,” said Mayra Hernandez, a community organizer for Quad Cities Interfaith. “Many of us are workers who are greatly contributing to our economy. In Iowa, Dreamers (DACA recipients who were brought to this country as children without documents) earn $94.75 million in wages and benefits and contribute over $82 million taxes and spending power in Iowa alone.”
Hernandez, 25, was one of two DACA recipients who spoke at the rally, along with a Catholic and a Lutheran pastor, and a deacon who serves as the diocese’s Social Action director. Representatives from other faith groups and organizations were among the allies in the audience.
They support legislation to make DACA, an executive action created by then-President Barack Obama in 2012, permanent. DACA is an acronym for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals that allows qualifying immigrants to live, work and pursue post-secondary education in the U.S. It does not create a path for citizenship, however.
DACA recipients are also known as “Dreamers” because of the proposed Dream Act, which would grant “lawful permanent resident status on a conditional basis” to those who meet certain criteria. That legislation has stalled. Legislation such as the Dream Act is crucial, DACA recipients and their supporters say, because of a U.S. Court of Appeals decision in October that affirmed a lower court’s ruling (Texas v. United States) that the DACA program is unlawful. The appellate court’s decision returns the case to the district court to consider the impact of regulations published last summer by the Department of Homeland Security to codify the program.
Quad Cities Interfaith, the Diocese of Davenport, Civil Rights of Immigrants of the Gamaliel Network, faith leaders and DACA recipients organized the press conference to stress the urgency to pass legislation before the Lame Duck Session of Congress ends. A new session begins Jan. 3, after which DACA legislation would be less likely to pass, DACA supporters say.
Debate over the legality of DACA has left recipients in turmoil, said DACA recipient Kenia Calderon of Des Moines. Calderon, 29, a businessperson who next month will begin an MBA program, said the turmoil – which she described as a roller coaster of uncertainty — caused her to step back from advocacy and into the shadows — until now.
Many DACA recipients are now adults, working and providing for their families today. “I owe DACA so much for my accomplishments in Iowa,” Calderon said. DACA provided the work authorization that allowed her to pay for her college education out of pocket. The state of Iowa has opened many doors for DACA recipients, she said. “Every day I am grateful to my parents for making the decision to bring us to the United States.”
She asked the audience to think about the parents and other DACA recipients like herself who are striving to “continue their education to improve and to be leaders in the different sectors in our state.” But, “we can’t plan for the future because the program could end at any time. DACA recipients and their families are a very important part of our state. We need them as much as we need you.”
Calderon spoke of immigrants who have lived in Iowa for 30 years without legal status because of legislative inaction. What’s going to happen when the work permits for DACA recipients expires, she asked. “How will we (supporters and advocates) show up for the community?”
Father Rudolph Juarez, pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Davenport, said Dreamers need the support of “our political
leaders to assure the stability and future of these young people.…” He urged the passage of laws that protect them and allow them “legal residency and permanence in our country.”
He referenced the Scriptures readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent in which St. Joseph responds in faith to God’s will for him to be Mary’s husband and the foster father of Jesus. “Today I’m calling on our senators, congress persons and all people of good will in this season of good will to be like Joseph and do the moral good and support our Dreamers,” Father Juarez said. Many of the Dreamers know no other home than the U.S. Help them “to fulfill their hopes and aspirations and contribute to the common good of our community and nation.”
Deacon Kent Ferris, diocesan director of Social Action, spoke about his office’s legislative advocacy over the years on behalf of immigrants. That work includes the diocesan Immigration Office, which has assisted 100 DACA recipients to apply for and to maintain their status. He concluded his remarks in prayer. “… God of mercy, God of justice, be with the DACA recipients and their families. May their example be the inspiration for elected officials who serve the common good to achieve permanent accommodations.…”
The Rev. Clark Olson-Smith, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Davenport, called on Sen. Ernst, as a “sister in Christ and a fellow Lutheran” to “Act on your faith and take leadership to create permanent protections for DACA recipients and undocumented immigrants before the end of the year.” He said, “Our economy desperately needs workers. Create a path to full participation as citizens of this nation. Protect our economy here in Iowa.”
Joe Krenzelok, a representative from Sen. Ernst’s office in Davenport, said he would relay the group’s message to the senator.