What would Jesus do about 'DREAMers'? Not what Trump did, Christian leaders say

Michael Walsh
Reporter
Joey Santos, 12, top right, and Matthew Santos, 7, bottom right, of Costa Mesa, Calif., meet Archbishop José H. Gomez following a mass for immigration reform at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. The Santos family joined about 400 Orange County residents who attended the mass on July 21, 2013. (Photo: Ana Venegas/The Orange County Register/ZUMAPRESS.com)

The Trump administration’s announcement that the Obama-era program giving temporary legal status to young undocumented immigrants was being scrapped sent shivers throughout churches across the country. Several prominen­t Catholics and evangelicals are united in their belief that ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA, is not the Christian thing to do.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, the preeminent Roman Catholic clergyman in America, condemned Trump’s decision, announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday, as contrary to the spirit of the Bible and the United States.

“All of the ‘DREAMers’ who now face such uncertainty and fear, please know that the Catholic Church loves you, welcomes you, and will fight to protect your rights and your dignity,” Dolan said.

If there is anything positive about President Trump’s action, he suggested, it’s that it might compel Congress “to pass humane legislation that will make the provisions of DACA law.”

Carmen Cervantes, the executive director of Instituto Fe y Vida (Faith and Life Institute), which is dedicated to “empowering young Latinos for leadership in Church and society,” said she fully endorses Dolan’s formal statement and echoes what he said elsewhere. She also agrees with Archbishop José H. Gomez of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, who said, “The announcement to end DACA is a national tragedy and a moral challenge to every conscience.”

Carmen Cervantes is the executive director of Instituto Fe y Vida, or Faith and Life Institute. (Photo: Courtesy of Carmen Cervantes)

“The Catholic Church has taken a prophetic and Christian stance about and immigration reform, which is very much needed for immigrants of all parts of the world and from diverse social classes. At Fe y Vida, we strongly and decisively support this plea,” Cervantes told Yahoo News via email.

Instituto Fe y Vida knows firsthand several DACA young adults who have participated in its pastoral formation and leadership training programs, she said. For all these young men and women, the U.S. is the only country they know, and the only education they’ve received has been in American schools. Their faith and morality has been cultivated in American churches, she continued, and all their friends are in the United States.

According to Cervantes, DACA was only a partial solution, but not an ideal one. President Barack Obama’s 2012 executive order gave 800,000 young adults legal permission to work in the U.S. She said this benefited the so-called DREAMers, their families, their neighborhoods and society in general.

“If their legal status is not solved within the next six months, they will have to seek other types of jobs with significantly less income for their families and with less positive impact for the U.S. as a country,” Cervantes said. “If they are deported, they will be sent to countries they do not know; where they may or may not have family; and many will have to leave behind spouses and children who are U.S. citizens. This will be a calamity for personal, family and civic life, caused without any logical or moral reason.”

Instituto Fe y Vida is calling for bipartisan legislation within the next six months to allow these young people to stay in the country.

“Other aspects of a holistic immigration reform, which is badly needed, could follow,” she said. “Now is the time to act on this aspect of the law.”

Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins speaks, Wednesday, March 4, 2015, in the Purcell Pavilion at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. (Photo: South Bend Tribune, Robert Franklin, Pool/AP)

The Rev. John I. Jenkins, the president of the University of Notre Dame, called the decision to end DACA “foolish, cruel and un-American.”

“Foolish because it drives away talented people the country needs; cruel because it abandons people who have done nothing wrong and have known life only in the United States; and un-American because we have always welcomed immigrants to our land of opportunity,” he said in a statement.

He called upon congressional leaders to find a permanent solution to the problem and vowed that Notre Dame would continue to support DACA students financially and maintain their enrollment — even if Congress fails to act.

The Alliance for Catholic Education at Notre Dame also released a statement calling on Congress to find a legislative solution and describing Catholic schools as a “safe harbor” for “all children in recognition of God’s love for His people, no matter a child’s place of birth.”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan speaks at City Hall in New York. Following President Trump’s decision to revoke the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, Mayor Bill de Blasio, first lady Chirlane McCray, key elected city officials and clergy spoke at a rally inside City Hall’s rotunda. (Photo: Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

“They came to this country as minors, and many remember only the United States as their home,” the statement reads. “To deport this group of people — those who have built lives contributing to our nation — is to turn our back on Jesus’s call to serve God’s treasured children.”

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Although Catholic leaders have cited compassion and morality in their numerous defenses of DACA, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon accuses the Catholic Church of having ulterior motives. He told CBS’s “60 Minutes” that Catholics need “illegal aliens to fill the churches” and that the church has been “terrible” about immigration.

Joseph Capizzi, the executive director of the Institute for Human Ecology at Catholic University of America, said the church has articulated the position taken by these Catholic bishops for a long time.

“It’s not something that — as Mr. Bannon’s comments suggest — they’ve adopted for demographic reasons or for even economic reasons. It’s a position that dates back arguably to Scripture itself regarding how we’re supposed to treat the stranger, the beggar, those who are most in need,” Capizzi told Yahoo News.

Capizzi said the church does need immigrant Catholics, but that this is no different than the way the U.S. needs immigrants of all kinds who are interested in contributing to the country. He noted the irony of Bannon’s stance, given his concern for the decline of Christian culture in Western Europe and the U.S.

Former presidential adviser Steve Bannon. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP)

“These are people who actually bear Christian culture and in particular Catholic culture in their very being,” he said. “You would think that even he would welcome them if for that reason alone.”

Similarly, Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League, an antidefamation and civil rights organization, said there’s nothing wrong with criticizing bishops who take positions on public policy but that it’s “unacceptable” for people to ascribe “invidious motives” to them as Bannon has.

“It is certainly true that most of the bishops promote a liberal position on illegal immigration. That is open to fair criticism, but to say that their motive is to ‘fill the churches’ is inaccurate and unfair. Indeed, it feeds the worst impulses of anti-Catholics. The bishops are making their case based on their compassion for the dispossessed,” Donohue wrote in a statement released Thursday.

He said legitimate issues could be raised regarding the approach that bishops have taken to address this issue, but that “filling the pews” is not one of them.

“Besides, if filling the pews were the driving force, only a delinquent pastor would choose to attract those least likely to donate to, and most likely to draw on, parish funds,” he said.

But Catholics are not alone.

Galen Carey, the vice president of government relations for the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents about 40 denominations and a whole range of evangelical associations, said it has long supported these young adults’ desire to stay and build their lives in the United States, which in many cases is the only country they know.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program supporters rally at City Hall in Los Angeles on Sept. 5. (Photo: Kyle Grillot/ Reuters)

“We’re totally onboard with that. There is a legitimate question about how that should be done, and we believe that a legislative solution that makes a permanent provision is what’s needed. DACA was helpful in providing protection and work authorization, but it was temporary,” Carey told Yahoo News.

He noted that DACA was always subject to potential revocation by another president after Barack Obama left office and that a more lasting solution would have to come from Congress.

“If there’s a silver lining at all in the president’s action, we think it would be the impetus it provides to Congress to act,” he said.

When asked about Dolan’s comments specifically, Carey said, “He was expressing his profound disappointment in the ending of the DACA program. He speaks as a pastor to his members, many of whom are directly affected by this, so his concern is very understandable. It’s quite appropriate, I would say.”

Carey described the association as nonpartisan and said it never endorses or campaigns for any candidates for any office. Instead, he said, the association reflects the concerns of its members and upholds the evangelical principles values that it would like political leaders to take into account.

In the past presidential election, for instance, it invited all the presidential candidates to prepare a video addressing how they intended to handle poverty at home and abroad. Without additional commentary, he said, the organization presented the videos to its members so they could make an informed decision when casting their ballots.

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, speaks at a news conference on June 13, 2017, in Phoenix. (Photo: Angie Wang/AP)

Carey said congressional representatives are busy with spending bills and other matters but hopes they will resolve the DACA issue as soon as possible: “The main thing we are saying to anyone who will listen in the Congress is don’t wait until five months and 29 days before you take action because people are affected and need to be able to plan their lives.”

Another evangelical leader, Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, largely shared the sentiments of Dolan, Cervantes and Carey when addressing the issue on Twitter:

“Congress should do the right thing and provide a solution for those who were brought here by parents as children. #daca”

“And churches will be here to speak hope to children now thrown into fear and insecurity about their families and their futures.”

“Children shouldn’t suffer because of the decisions of their parents, especially when they have tried to make things right. #DACA”

(Cover tile photo: Patrick Fallon via ZUMA Wire)

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