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Seasonal Reflection: Fourth of July and Immigration

by Christopher Posch, OFM

Posch-ChristopherAs the country commemorates its independence, many people are thinking about history and about the future. Below, a friar who is active with the Latino community shares thoughts about a recent announcement by the U.S. government.

He writes about his reaction to the June 15 announcement by the Department of Homeland Security that it will offer deferred action to youth who entered the United States before the age of 16 and who meet certain criteria. Though this announcement pleased many people, it has raised questions and concerns by others. The friar describes his thoughts about the Dream Act (for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors), the legislative proposal first introduced in the Senate in 2001.

The essay below reflects the opinions of the writer and not necessarily those of the friars of Holy Name Province.

Independence Day is marked by picnics, fireworks, and recalling the principleson which our Founding Fathers established the United States: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We are a nation of immigrants. But with President Obama’s 1.2 million deportations and President George W. Bush’s 1.6 million deportations, veteran immigration lawyer Bill Ong Hing states that “we have reversed ourselves as a nation of immigrants.” In fact, other nations such as Canada and Australia now have higher immigrant percentages than the United States.

104_0938Recently, President Obama issued an Executive Order that gives administrative relief to “Dreamers,” immigrants under 30 who were brought to the United States as children under 16. If the individual has lived continuously in the U.S. for at least five years, attends or graduates from high school or serves in the military, has a clean criminal record and meets other requirements, he or she would be protected from deportment and given the chance to apply for working papers for two years. At present, there is no application process, as the Department of Homeland Security is writing the rules and procedures. This needs to be completed by Aug. 15, 2012.

Some have called this action a moment of hope, while others have called it the amputation of the DREAM Act’s vital organs. Still others have called it a moral hoax, amnesty and a masterful political move. Ruben Navarrette of the Washington Post describes this as throwing the Dreamers a bone and calling it a steak dinner, comparing it to “a restaurant that keeps having its ‘grand opening’ every few months in the hope that the gimmick will stir interest and attract customers,” in this case Hispanic voters.

Many questions remain unanswered: How much will the work permits cost? How long will it take to receive such work permits? And more disturbing: If the work permit is not renewed after two years, or if Obama is not re-elected and the Executive Order is reversed, will Dreamer applicants be required to leave the country? Could this become a variation of a “report to deport” policy?

The Department of Homeland Security has until 60 days after the relief was announced to have an application process ready. Hopefully, these questions will be answered.

In the meantime, Dreamers are brilliantly organizing, tweeting, Facebooking, and engaging in phone conferences, webinars, and community information sessions to educate one another and the public about eligibility and possible scams, frauds, and vulnerability. Their heroic public actions such as hunger strikes, parades, sit-ins, “coming-out” sessions, and mock graduations from DREAM University emulate the non-violent techniques utilized by leaders such as Dorothy Day, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and other civil rights advocates such as the four black university students who dared to dine at a “whites only” lunch counter at Woolworth’s stores in Greensboro, N.C., in 1963.

Hebrew Scriptures, the gospel, the economy, and brain drain oblige passing the DREAM Act in its entirety, granting paths towards permanent legal status. The Franciscan Family and the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference strongly support the passing the DREAM Act nationally and its local state adaptations.

Miguel, a Mexican-born Dreamer from the class of 2010 of St. Paul Elementary School, said, “I am still shocked and surprised that such a step to an immigration reform was taken this late in Obama’s term as president. It is a small step and we will still continue to push for a DREAM Act, but for now I am happy that this small step was taken. It is better to have a small benefit than have no benefit.”

Our Founding Fathers, Dorothy Day, and Martin Luther King would be proud of Miguel and his fellow Dreamers as they heroically fight and call us to return to our collective roots: the U.S. as a nation of immigrants.

— Fr. Christopher is director of the Office of Hispanic Ministry, for the Diocese of Wilmington, Del. He serves as chair of the HNP Hispanic Ministry Committee, co-chair of the San Marcos Guatemalan Solidarity Partnership Team, and site supervisor for Wilmington Franciscan Volunteer Ministries.

Editor’s note: The HNP Communications Office welcomes friars to submit reflections about holidays, feast days and other topics of a timely nature. Those interested in submitting a reflection for consideration for a future issue of HNP Today should contact communications director Jocelyn Thomas by email at JThomas@hnp.org.