A federal judge’s recent ruling places responsibility on Congress to end 37 years of intransigence and pass immigration legislation that could be the first step in serving the best interests of this nation. Immigrants are vital to the functioning of our economy. More importantly, they are deserving of the dignity that all of us, as children of God, are entitled to.
Two years ago, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen declared the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) unlawful. Last week, he rejected the Biden Administration’s measures to strengthen the program. The judge said in his ruling, “The solution for these deficiencies lies with the legislature, not the executive or judicial branch” (OSV, Sept. 13). Note to Congress: legislate!
Judge Hanen’s ruling is sure to raise the anxiety level of the nearly 600,000 undocumented individuals brought to the United States as children. DACA, created by presidential executive order in 2012, protected these individuals — known as Dreamers — from the threat of deportation and gave them the ability to apply for work authorization.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has long supported the Dreamers, more than 90% of whom are employed, according to the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration. “Over the past year and a half, more than three-quarters of DACA recipients in the workforce — 343,000 — were employed in jobs deemed essential by the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency,” the alliance stated (https://tinyurl.com/yc8va9k4).
“DACA recipients are treasured members of our communities, places of worship, workplaces, and more,” says Anna Gallagher, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. (CLINIC). “They are now faced with anxiety over the most basic of needs: to remain in the only home they have ever known with their families. In solidarity with DACA recipients and their loved ones, we will continue to advocate and pray for permanent legal protections and for a timely, moral resolution to this legal struggle.”
Notice Gallagher’s reference to “permanent legal protections,” a guarantee that only Congress can make by fulfilling its responsibility to legislate. The presidential executive order that created DACA in 2012 would not have been necessary if Congress had passed immigration legislation that establishes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. The alliance states that among 1,044 registered voters, 79% of Americans would support this legislation. So, why has Congress been dragging its feet on the immigration legislation? Congress last approved meaningful immigration legislation in 1986!
Some 46 million immigrants live in the U.S., which is 14% of our nation’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Without them (which includes DACA recipients), our economy would falter. We would lack health care providers, day care providers, construction workers, restaurant and hospital staff, and teachers, among other essential employees.
We’ve got to convince our own senators from Iowa — Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst — to support and convince their colleagues to support — the Dream Act 2023 (S. 365). This bill, introduced seven months ago, would protect from deportation and grant lawful permanent resident status on a conditional basis to qualifying undocumented immigrants who initially entered the U.S. as children. The average age of a DACA recipient is 28, according to the alliance.
Both Grassley and Ernst are too focused on punitive measures regarding undocumented immigrants at the border. Their focus ought to shift to improving an ongoing labor shortage with the lawful employment of immigrants willing and ready to work. We can secure the border and at the same time replenish the labor pool with immigrant workers who keep our economic engine going. Contact the senators at grassley.senate.gov and ernst.senate.gov and ask them to support the Dream Act 2023.
Our U.S. bishops say that DACA holders “exemplify the extraordinary contributions that immigrants can provide to our nation. These young people have grown up in our country, some even choosing to put their lives on the line to serve in our armed forces. These educated, tax-paying individuals are a valuable part of our workforce and our communities” (usccb.org/resources/backgrounder-daca).
DACA recipients are essential to our workforce. The anxiety they endure because of politics is not reflective of the God who loves us and whose love we strive to reciprocate.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor