OPINION | DACA helps people achieve the American dream, don't take it away

Today, Aug. 15 is an important day for immigrant youth and our country. It marks the fifth anniversary for when individuals were first able to apply for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012. While many of the approximately 800,000 DACA recipients will likely feel a moment of gratitude at this milestone occasion, the sad truth is that most DACA youth will continue to experience fear and growing uncertainty about their futures, in part due to a looming decision over the fate of the DACA program that must soon be made.   

Brought to the United States as children by their parents, DACA kids are American in every way with the exception of their immigration status. They represent the best of what our country is known for: ambition, hard work and devotion to family. These youths have grown up in our country, some even choosing to put their lives on the line to serve in our armed forces. They truly exemplify the extraordinary contributions that immigrants can provide to our nation.

DACA is not legal status. It does not entitle those who apply for and receive it to become U.S. citizens. Instead, DACA allows for certain undocumented immigrants living in the United States, who entered the country as minors, to receive a renewable two-year reprieve from deportation and legal work authorization.  


President Trump has stated in the past that he will do something regarding DACA that will make people happy and proud. Instead, DACA youth are awaiting the president's action on a daunting Sept. 5 deadline imposed by 10 state attorneys general in a June 29 letter threatening a lawsuit against the DACA program. The AG letter requests the Department of Homeland Security phase out the DACA program if the administration fails to rescind it by Sept. 5. This imperils the DACA program and leaves the livelihood and future of approximately 800,000 youth in the balance.  

Rescinding DACA would be a terrible loss for DACA youth, their families and our country. Such a shift would devastate immigrant communities. In addition to harming and potentially separating families, ending DACA would eliminate a steady stream of taxable income from our economy and would immediately force hundreds of thousands of young productive people out of the legal workforce.

My brother bishops and I have long supported DACA and volunteering in our parishes. We know DACA have been given a chance to achieve their God-given potential. For this reason, I urge the administration to continue their journey of achieving the American dream.   

The fate of DACA youth, however, cannot be laid solely at the feet of President Trump. Congress has had a strong hand in this as well and bears large responsibility for our nation's current immigration situation. The original legislation that was the inspiration for DACA, the DREAM Act, was introduced in Congress in 2001. It has been re-introduced many times in both the Senate and the House of Representatives and was reintroduced in July in the Senate and the House behind the leadership of Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard (R-Calif.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).

Whether as a standalone bill or part of larger reform, the DREAM Act has never passed Congress. Now is the time. I call upon Congress to move on this bipartisan legislation and ensure a permanent legislative solution. Work across the aisle to ensure that 800,000 youth do not have the rug pulled out from underneath them.  

It is time for the president and Congress to show the American people that they can work together to protect DACA youth once and for all. The president must not revoke or sunset DACA but instead must protect DACA and work with Congress to find a solution.  

How we treat our youth is reflective of who we are as a country. Seeing the daily suffering and anxiety in the faces of DACA youth underscores for me the moral urgency of this situation. Now is the time for our leaders to work together and find a just and compassionate solution for DACA youth as well as repair our broken immigration system.

The Most Rev. John Wester is the Archbishop of Santa Fe.

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