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Franciscans Object to President’s DACA Plans

Friars and students of Siena College at the DACA – “Walking with the Dreamers” March on Sept. 13. (Photo courtesy of Damietta Cross-Cultural Center at Siena College)

The leaders of the OFM Franciscans in the United States released a statement last week expressing their objection to President Trump’s intention to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The provincial ministers of the seven provinces in the United States – Holy Name as well as Assumption BVM, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Immaculate Conception, Sacred Heart, St. Barbara and St. John the Baptist – said on Sept. 5, the day after President Donald Trump’s announcement:

As leaders and members of the Franciscan Order in the United States, we object in strenuous terms to the decision of President Donald Trump to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. This decision constitutes a rejection of the 2012 executive order by President Barack Obama that allowed young immigrants, who were brought to the United States by their parents, to seek the opportunity to realize their full potential. President Obama’s executive order was not only moral, it also responded to the highest ideals of our nation.

The 780,000 “dreamers” (those who have received deferred action) are good, generous, talented and hard-working individuals. Many of them we know personally in and through our various Franciscan ministries. We have celebrated the DACA program with them as a modern response to the Biblical imperative to “welcome the stranger.” Now, after President Trump’s decision to end the executive action, we commit ourselves to stand in support of and solidarity with “dreamers.”

We urge all members of the communities we serve to condemn this unnecessary and harmful order by President Trump. Furthermore, we call upon all to contact their members of Congress and urge them to pass legislation that will fully welcome “dreamers” to our nation, remove the permanent shadow of their temporary status and make it illegal to deport or harm them. We join the U.S. Catholic Bishops in advocating for the bi-partisan “Dream Act of 2017,” H.R. 3440 and S. 1615. This legislation can help “dreamers” receive a piece of the security and human dignity they and all people deserve.

The full text of the letter is available on the English-speaking Conference’s website.

Supporting Human Dignity
“It is important that friars and their partners in-ministry advocate for the ‘dreamers,’” said Russ Testa, director of HNP Office for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation. “The only way that the DACA recipients will have security in their status is by legislating action that will guarantee permanent residency and a pathway to citizenship. We all need to contact our congressional representatives. This is especially important for Franciscans who want to support human dignity and, as we say, the stranger.”

The morning after the collaborative statement was released, the Province’s JPIC Office provided information about how individuals can act to support the people affected by DACA.

“First, we must find multiple ways to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who have used DACA to provide some security in their lives,” said Testa. Suggestions for immediate action were provided, including the following:

  • Reach out to local people who use DACA to go to school, work and participate more fully in our community. Be clear that we do not have solutions for them, but we do stand with them and support them. The Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) offers some good points of advice on its website.
  • Include persons using DACA and the desire for a long-term solution into the prayers of the faithful during daily prayer and liturgies.

“Our members of Congress need to hear from their constituents an immediate, strong and sustained call for passage of ‘The Dream Act of 2017,’ S. 1615 and H.R. 3440, bipartisan bills in the House and Senate. A link to an action alert from the Interfaith Immigration Coalition and supported by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was provided. We encourage you to use and to share this with as many people as possible.”

Testa said his office will be regularly making available resources and “action opportunities to move us toward a solution that upholds the dignity of our DACA sisters and brothers.”

Taking Action
Friars, as well as staff members and volunteers at the Province’s ministries, have been expressing their dislike of the president’s intention.

Last week, Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, of Silver Spring, Md., the former chair of the Province’s Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Directorate, participated in a rally in Washington, D.C., in response to President Trump’s desire to end DACA. In an EWTN News report covering the event, Jacek said, “these are our children, they are part of our community.”

On Sept. 7, several friars and a group of students participated in a prayer vigil and rally at the College of Mount St. Vincent in the Bronx, N.Y. Ronald Pecci, OFM, and Christian Seno, OFM, organized the Thursday evening vigil that was covered by local media outlets.

Before the event got underway, Christian told News 12 The Bronx that the evening would include “a moment of prayer and silence and some readings from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, as well as stories from students themselves.”

Christian said that the organizers thought the demonstration “would be a good way to show solidarity with the students and with our immigrant brothers and sisters.”

Ron Pecci speaks at the College of Mount St. Vincent. (Photo courtesy of Christian Seno)

The event was held to “protest and denounce the Trump Administration’s decision to rescind DACA. Franciscans,” said Christian, asking others to “please continue to voice your support for immigrants, especially those DREAMers who have been affected by this grave injustice.”

“The student body at Mount St. Vincent’s comprises a very large minority and immigrant population,” said Ron, who lives on the college’s campus. “It looks like the United Nations. While the immigration status of the students is not public knowledge it is not difficult to assume that we have many students who are DACA, some who have confided to college personnel about their fears in light of Presidents Trump’s refusal to extend protection from deportation to undocumented young people.

“Christian and I decided that we needed to do something to demonstrate support and demand the renewal – or permanent legislative fix – of this situation,” he said. “The college administration and campus ministry were extremely supportive and gave us every help that we needed. It is a trademark of this school to serve the underserved.”

“The DACA students are young men and women who are doing the best they can,” he added. “How can we fault them for seeking education and employment? How can we fault parents who want a safer and better life for their children – is that criminal? Laws are fine, but some of our laws need to change. Unfortunately, we have leaders who prefer to criminalize people and keep people down. It is important that we highlight this situation.”

Attendees pray during a vigil at the College of Mount St. Vincent in the Bronx, N.Y. (Photo courtesy of Christian Seno)

After each of its weekend Masses, Immaculate Conception Parish in Durham, N.C., offered parishioners the opportunity to write letters in support of the DACA youth. The church estimates that between 200 and 300 youth in the parish have DACA status. “We urge Senators Tillis and Burr and our four congressional representatives to support the passage of a clean DREAM Act bill in the short term and a just immigration reform bill in the long term,” said parish representatives in a news release.

On Sept. 13, Siena students organized a rally and a “Walking with the Dreamers” march in response to the pending removal of DACA. On Sept. 18, the college will be holding an open forum discussion on the potential ending of the program. Photos and information about the events is available on the Facebook page of the Damietta Cross-Cultural Center at Siena College.

“The moral bankruptcy of this administration should challenge Americans – especially Christian Americans – to mobilize a crusade on behalf of the vulnerable children and youth who have been so cruelly abandoned by President Trump’s executive order,” said Robert Tocha, a member of St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, Md. “Those who profess to be pro-life cannot sit on the sideline, but rather they must press elected officials to restore protection to these children and youth. Politicians of all stripes need to know that our resolve in this matter is grounded in our Christian beliefs and that we are prepared to employ any and all non-violent tactics to see that justice prevails. They need to know that we are no sunshine patriots, but rather committed Christians prepared for a crusade that will neither tire nor falter. Politicians who stand with President Trump on this issue need to know that such support is career-ending.” Tocha was recently honored with the HNP Francis Medal.

Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.

Editor’s note: Immigration information and resources can be found in the Justice and Peace section of HNP.org.

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