Alaska’s Catholic bishops condemned a decision by President Donald Trump’s administration to phase out the Obama era policy called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The program, instituted by executive order in 2012, and expanded in 2014, allows children brought into the country illegally by their parents to apply for protection from deportation, including work permits and Social Security benefits for up to two years. About 800,000 people (mostly adults brought into the country as children) have applied for protection under DACA.
“We, the Catholic bishops of Alaska, remain united in heart and mind with our brother bishops across this nation in condemning the Administration’s decision to suspend DACA,” the Alaska bishops said in a Sept. 4 statement signed by Anchorage Archbishop Paul Etienne, Fairbanks Bishop Chad Zielinski, Bishop-elect of Juneau Andrew Bellisario and Anchorage Archbishop Emeritus Roger Schwietz.
The Trump Administration’s decision to end DACA will not take effect for six months, ostensibly to allow time for Congress to pass legislation that addresses the needs of those currently enrolled in the program. While new applications under DACA ceased on Sept. 4, all pending applications will continue to be processed.
Alaska’s bishops said they “stand in strong solidarity with the 800,000 people and their families who have been protected under this provision, and who have called this their country for the primary part of their lives. We as a nation are better than this, and Congress must now act to correct this inhuman disrespect of our brothers and sisters in the one family of God.”
Alaska’s bishops said those affected by the DACA program are “not strangers living among us. They are students in our schools, people we see in the grocery store. They are the friends we have in our lives. America is their home.”
In phasing out DACA, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that it was an unconstitutional overreach of executive power, noting that Congress had refused several times to grant such benefits to undocumented immigrants. In ending the DACA executive order, Trump has called on Congress to pass a program similar to DACA, but through the legislative process.
On a national level, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called the cancellation of DACA “reprehensible” and said the church will support and advocate for those in the program.
“The Catholic Church has long watched with pride and admiration as DACA youth live out their daily lives with hope and a determination to flourish and contribute to society: continuing to work and provide for their families, continuing to serve in the military, and continuing to receive an education,” the U.S. bishops stated. “Now, after months of anxiety and fear about their futures, these brave young people face deportation. This decision is unacceptable and does not reflect who we are as Americans.”
The U.S. bishops said the cancellation of DACA “shows the absence of mercy and good will, and a short-sighted vision for the future.” They urged Congress to immediately work towards a legislative solution.