CINCINNATI, Ohio (RNS) A few weeks ago after Mass at our local parish, I spoke with David, a young Guatemalan father who was anxious about the future. His concerns were understandable.
David is a devoted Catholic, a hard worker, and a family man. “I have been here for several years now, and my children are citizens,” he told me, gazing warmly at his chubby son in the stroller. “I worry that someday (the immigration authorities) will deport me and send me far away from them. This DAPA thing — it is the only hope to keep my family together.”
In a ruling due before the end of the month, the U.S. Supreme Court could dash that hope — all David’s hopes — and those of thousands of other men, women and children we should be proud to claim as Americans.
But the court could also take the high road, the better path and take a moral stand for the rights of the undocumented in our communities.
David was referring to a 2014 program known as DAPA, which also has a 2012 predecessor known as DACA. They are acronyms for Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, respectively.
The policies aim to grant renewable work permits and exemption from deportation to nearly 4.3 million immigrants who came to the United States as young children or who have lived in the United States since 2010 and have children who are American citizens or lawful permanent residents.
The DAPA program is the result of an executive order issued by President Obama after Congress failed to pass immigration reform; his order also expanded the earlier DACA program.
It was a laudable effort that would have enabled minors brought to this country by their parents to live securely and freely, and to help their parents and families come out of the shadows. It would have put David’s mind to rest so he could concentrate on the things that really matter — living a dignified life, caring for and supporting his family and his community.
Instead, governors and attorneys general from 26 states across the country, led by Texas, filed a lawsuit to reverse this program and a federal court blocked it. The governors and attorneys general do not have a solution or a better way to serve those in need in our community; it is strictly a political move.
As a result, the Supreme Court has been weighing whether Obama followed the appropriate rule-making process when he directed the administration to create the Deferred Action program and whether such a decision is really the president’s to make.
If the justices rule in favor of undocumented immigrants and their families (and the president) a program that will help millions find the security and opportunity to thrive in this country can move forward.
If the justices rule otherwise, these families, many of whom have suffered greatly already, will be forced to continue living in a very dangerous state of limbo.
But if the Supreme Court is tied in its decision, a lower court ruling blocking the program would stay in place.
As a religious sister ministering with a large Guatemalan community, I know countless loving mothers and fathers who share David’s very rational fears.
Schools with immigrant students have worked with them to create “deportation plans”– contingency plans for what to do if a child arrives home to an empty house because mama or papa was deported. This is a horrifying contradiction to the family values we claim to embrace as a nation. It is also an assault on human rights, as deporting these mothers, fathers, and young people means sending them back to destitution and even danger.
Although approving DAPA and expanded DACA will not solve all the problems these families face, it will at least grant a reprieve.
Most Americans, and certainly people of faith, agree that these families, our sisters and brothers in faith and community, should not be priorities for deportation. As the U.S. Catholic Bishops consistently remind us, we must pass comprehensive immigration reform.
In the meantime, DAPA and expanded DACA represent an urgently-needed short-term solution. Immigrant rights are family rights, and I pray that the Supreme Court continues our country’s long tradition of upholding both.
(Sister Tracy Kemme, a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati nun, has lived and worked at the El Paso-Juarez border volunteering at a shelter for migrants and at a Latino parish. She now works with immigrants in Cincinnati)