On June 15th, Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced “effective immediately, certain young people who were brought to the United States as young children, do not present a risk to national security or public safety, and meet several key criteria will be considered for relief from removal from the country or from entering into removal proceedings. Those who demonstrate that they meet the criteria will be eligible to receive deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal, and will be eligible to apply for work authorization.” Suddenly, hope was born.
What Does Deferred Action Mean?
Initially, it means there is hope for hundreds of thousands of young people, DREAMERS, who have an opportunity to come out from the shadows of the only country they’ve ever known and become full members of the community. It offers a pathway to legal employment, the ability to access funding assistance to continue their education, and most importantly, it removes the spectrum of fear that permeates every aspect of their community life.
In the long term, it may provide for a pathway to citizenship, although that would require congressional action (Congress adopting laws that provide amnesty, revised immigration requirements, or both). But by creating relief from removal proceedings, young people can continue their education, enjoy the dignity of work, heed the spiritual call to participate openly in society, and demonstrate that their commitment to the United States is as strong as any native born American.
The Stranger Among Us
Following the June 15th announcement, immigrant rights organizations, aided by the Church, have conducted over 1,000 Deferred Action forums aimed at providing information to young people and their parents about eligibility, the process (it has yet to be finalized) and things to watch out for. In attending one of those forums, the overriding discovery for this catechist was that these young people were everywhere in our communities. And they were just like us.
A quick glance around the room revealed dozens of faces that I had known for years, through our Sacramental Prep programs and in the High School Ministry group. Some of them spoke limited Spanish. Most could not remember their early lives in Mexico. Listening to speakers that ranged from Diocesean Social Justice staff to representatives from both the Department of Homeland Security and the Mexican consulate, the looks of trepidation, mixed with hope, were still overshadowed by the powerful weight of fear.
Fear that the rumors they had heard were not true. Fear that it was a plot to draw untold numbers of undocumented young people out in to the open so that they could be deported. Fear that just coming to one of these forums could put them at risk of losing the only national home they had ever known.
And yet they came.
According to the DHS, under this directive, individuals who demonstrate that they meet the following criteria will be eligible for an exercise of discretion, specifically deferred action, on a case by case basis:
- Came to the United States under the age of sixteen;
- Have continuously resided in the United States for a least five years preceding the date of this memorandum and are present in the United States on the date of this memorandum;
- Are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate, or are honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States;
- Have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety;
- Are not above the age of thirty.
The application process is still being developed. It is important young people and their families recognize there is no formal application yet. Do not pay money to anyone who claims to be able to help you with the application, or says they can guarantee approval. In the meantime, individuals seeking more information on the new policy should visit USCIS’s website (at www.uscis.gov), ICE’s website (at www.ice.gov), or DHS’s website (at www.dhs.gov). Beginning Monday, individuals can also call USCIS’ hotline at 1-800-375-5283 or ICE’s hotline at 1-888-351-4024 during business hours with questions or to request more information on the forthcoming process.
How Can We Respond?
Scripture reminds us that there is no authority except from God (Romans 13:1). The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that Authority is exercised legitimately if it is committed to the common good of society. To attain this it must employ morally acceptable means (CCC 1921). We are also reminded that the common good of society consists of three essential elements: respect for and promotion of the fundamental rights of the persons; prosperity, or the development of the spiritual and temporal goods of society; the peace and security of the group and its members (CCC 1925).
President Obama, in his Executive Order that led to this DHS direction demonstrated compassion, equity, and a strong moral commitment to the common good. We can actively participate in our faith and our communities by supporting Deferred Action and ensuring that the strangers among us have everything they need to come out from the shadows and enjoy the light.