In the past weeks, communities in Texas and Louisiana suffered the loss of life and property to a degree that most of us will never experience. This seemed like an once-in-a-lifetime disaster. Yet, on Tuesday, September 5, 2017, the Trump administration put roughly 800,000 young lives in serious jeopardy and not just for a few days. The revocation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was a different kind of storm of the century.
In his brief, uncompassionate statement, with an apparent smirk on his face, Attorney General Jeff Sessions sought to destroy the dreams of young undocumented Americans, as well as the lives of many of their families. I should not be surprised, but still I have been asking myself:
- How could this be?
- How could we let this happen?
- What has happened to our country?
No doubt the tears are flowing from the face of Lady Liberty in the harbor of New York. What a travesty and what a shame. At this moment, I feel ashamed to call myself a citizen of the United States. If you listened carefully to his ten-minute speech, you heard the Attorney General attack not just the Dreamers, but all immigrants and the very values that make our nation great. The Trump administration appears set on closing as many doors as possible to immigrants.
As a nation, we seem to be at risk of losing our soul of compassion and replacing it with a misguided sense that law and order will somehow save us from ruin. How can kicking out so many well-prepared youth make our nation a better place to live? In fact, this action will achieve the exact opposite. You cannot possibly remove 800,000 young people from the work force and not expect financial disaster. Immigrants contribute substantially to the economy. They have always toiled and labored to make America great. You would think that the great negotiator would understand this fact.
I hope I am wrong but it seems to me that President Trump’s mantra – “Make America Great Again” – is more about making America white again. What else can we conclude when we witness a President who has no problem kicking hard-working migrant youth to the curb, but finds it hard to condemn Nazis and White Supremacists, and indeed lauds the “good people” participating in racist rallies? I cannot understand how the President’s plan to make America great again is going to work by kicking out hundreds of thousands of hardworking and studious young people who were, by and large, way too young to break any laws in entering the country without authorization.
To paraphrase Pontius Pilate, another famous person who also had difficulty making just decisions, what is written is written. The million-dollar question remains: What do we do now and where do we go from here? The worst possible course would be to accept this decision and hang our heads in shame. Here at the Casa del Migrante, I am in daily contact with over 120 men whose lives have been shattered by deportation. For some, it is a like a death sentence. They cannot take it and end up on the streets of Tijuana, victims of addictions that will eventually destroy their lives. However, about 100 people enter our work program every month and begin to reconstruct their lives. Every day, they inspire me to keep going and try to make a difference. Consequently, I would like to share some specific steps we might consider as our response to the cancellation of DACA.
I am very proud to see what the US bishops wrote about the DACA decision, and I am equally inspired by the response of several individual bishops. I want to give a shout out to the California bishops for their prophetic words as well. But while all these words are great, they are not enough. We need every bishop in every US diocese to preach on this pro-life issue. When 800,000 lives are put in jeopardy it is time for us to be prophetic and be brave enough to accept the criticism. Here at the Casa every day we have young people arriving to escape the violence of their countries. Everyone says the same thing: If I go home I will be killed. It is quite likely that every Honduran and Salvadoran deported via the cancellation of DACA is receiving a death sentence.
Let us be inspired to action by Pope Francis. In his 2018 letter for the celebration of Migration Sunday, the Holy Father calls each of us to act in accord with four key action verbs in terms of migrants and refugees: Welcome, Protect, Promote and Integrate. This is the time for all bishops to encourage their pastors to speak out as Pope Francis has called us to do to make migrants feel welcomed and protected.
We desperately need a political response to the cancellation of DACA. Of course, it is important to go out into the streets and let our voices be heard about the injustice of this decision but that is not enough either. President Trump has given Congress a mandate to act during the next six months. In a sense, DACA is on life support, and it will be up to Congress to bring it back to life. This time, citizens and other US residents cannot allow Congress to pass the buck. They must push their members to find a solution. This will mean lots of hard work and organizing on the part of many people of good will. There are over 800,000 lives in the balance and six months will pass quickly. The US bishops’ Justice for Immigrants campaign will offer a lot of opportunities for people to get involved.
On the other hand, the countries of origin where many DACA folks might return need to be on their toes and be ready to welcome home whichever young people are forced or feel compelled to leave the United States. They will have many great talents to share with their ancestral homelands.
In talking about the final judgment in the 25th chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus issues some very specific markers that people are expected to meet in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. One such mandate is particularly relevant to the current moment. In Matthew 25:35, Jesus said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” This passage hangs over the door of the Casa and welcomes every person who enters our doors. As we think about how we might be judged at the end of our lives, we should realize that we cannot pick and choose which of Jesus’s commands we would like to follow. Jesus spent his missionary life making people feel welcome and reaching out to those ostracized by society. Can we be expected to do anything less?
The revocation of DACA on September 5, 2017 calls each of us to search our hearts and seek out a human response based on Judeo-Christian values. It is almost comical to hear so many politicians repeat the phrase that our country is based on Judeo-Christian values, while they ignore scripture. When it comes to immigrants and refugees, this core teaching gets buried in the rhetoric of legality and illegality. At this time, we can also usefully invoke the famous WWJD (What Would Jesus Do). Of course, Jesus would want to keep the door open for the 800,000 DACA beneficiaries and not tell them: Sorry there is no room at this inn.
Yes, September 5, 2017 was an infamous day in US history, but that day has come and gone. Now it is time for us to make things right and to make history over the next six months. Congress should enact just legislation that welcomes migrants, refugees, and Dreamers in a way that will truly make America great again. Si se puede.