September 5, 2017 was one of the most memorable and devastating days I have had as an educator. This is the date on which the Trump administration announced the recension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program (DACA). DACA provides temporary legal protection for individuals who have migrated to the United States before the age of 16. These individuals, along with all other undocumented youth, are commonly referred to as “dreamers.” This program changed the reality of so many young people in the United States, giving them hope for their future and a pathway for them to recognize and realize their full human vocation given to them by God.
I serve as the Director of Service and Advocacy at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix, AZ. I remember that day sitting in a classroom, crying alongside a number of students as they shared how worried, stressed, and sad they were about their futures and hopes being crushed. Out of this moment of community was born the “DreamOn Campaign.” Over the past three years, a group of DACA recipients, undocumented students, and their allies started a campaign to support undocumented students on our campus. As we sat together, we looked to the Church for guidance and direction. Through this work, Church teaching came to life in a way that I had never experienced or expected.
The Power of Church Teaching
Rooted in the Church’s commitment to a preferential option for the poor and promotion of a consistent life ethic, the Church prophetically defends peoples’ right to migrate and pursue more humane living conditions. In his address to the New World Congress on the Pastoral Care of Immigrants, Pope John Paul II stated:
“Every human being has the right to freedom of movement and of residence within the confines of his [her] own country. When there are just reasons in favor of it, he [she] must be permitted to migrate to other countries and to take up residence there. The fact that he [she] is a citizen of a particular state does not deprive him [her] of membership to the human family, nor of citizenship in the universal society, the common, world-wide fellowship of men [women].”
Migration is a human right that the Church affirms, and is included in the broad scope of life issues that the Church champions. This rich tradition illuminates a pathway for building the Kingdom of God here on Earth, and encourages each person of faith to critically examine our migration system, and challenge it to be more dignifying.
One of my former students and a DACA recipient reflected on his experience creating the “DreamOn Campaign,” identifying how the Catholic Church’s teaching on migration has offered him hope and strength:
“The Church’s teaching, more specifically the Jesuit Mission, was one of the main reasons why I felt so empowered and responsible for addressing all of the immigration injustices that have been at the center of our country’s debates. Being on DACA and having done this much work at such a young age has only been made possible because of the support of Catholic social teaching. If it weren’t for the things I have been taught regarding social justice and how it’s my duty to help others, movements like the ‘DreamOn Campaign’ would have never been made possible in such great capacity” (Saul Rascón Salazar, 18).
Saul’s story is not unlike so many other students. The Truth of human dignity that the Catholic church has discovered has the ability to transform structures of sin. In a time when the Catholic Church is recovering from difficult damage to its moral credibility, advocating on behalf of migrants, seems to be a potent place for the Church to restore justice and bring healing to the world.
Our Call to Respond
As the Supreme Court decision on the fate of DACA looms (as early as this month), and considering that DACA will likely be absolved, it is important to return to the statement the U.S. Catholic bishops’ made in response to the recension of DACA:
“The Church has recognized and proclaimed the need to welcome young people. …Today’s actions represent a heartbreaking moment in our history that shows the absence of mercy and good will, and a short-sighted vision for the future. DACA youth are woven into the fabric of our country and of our Church, and are, by every social and human measure, American youth. … We pledge our support to work on finding an expeditious means of protection for DACA youth. As people of faith, we say to DACA youth – regardless of your immigration status, you are children of God and welcome in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church supports you and will advocate for you.” (emphasis added) (USCCB, 2017).
The issue of immigration is especially concerning for Catholics, given the Church’s clear and powerful stance on migration. Our Church tradition traces back to the Holy Family, who were refugees fleeing the oppression of a wicked king. If Jesus had been born in the context of today, He Himself would have qualified for DACA. It can be easy to get caught up in the identity politics that dominate our political landscape, especially around migration, but this issue isn’t about a party or political agenda; it is about invaluable human lives that deserve the chance to achieve their full human vocation. As Catholics, our call is to rise above, to be trans-political, and to move the entire system toward a more just reality. This call requires moral courage and a commitment to being prophetic voices of radical transformation.
To learn more about the DreamOn Campaign watch this video: