Young immigration activists and those enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, take part in a rally Sept. 12 in Washington to urge Congress to pass the DREAM Act. Catholic college presidents have been vocal in their support for DACA students and have offered additional resources for these students on their campuses. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters) See WASHINGTON-LETTER-DACA-COLLEGES Sept. 15, 2017.

By Rhina Guidos
Catholic News Service

Mass for DACA students and their families

When: 4:30 p.m., Sept. 23

Where: St. Agnes Parish, 1954 N. 24h St.

After the Mass, students will share their stories and an immigration attorney will be available to answer questions.

(602) 354-2042

WASHINGTON — After campaigning on a promise that he’d get rid of a program that helps a group of young migrants without documents remain in the country, President Donald Trump is working with Democrats to find a way to help the young migrants stay.

Late Sept. 13, the two top Democrats in Congress, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the minority leader in the House of Representatives, and Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader in the Senate, said they met with the president to hash out a deal to help the approximately 800,000 youth who have benefited from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

On Sept. 5, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the program, which began under then-President Barack Obama in 2012, would end under the Trump administration. DACA provides a work permit and temporary reprieve from deportation for youth brought to the U.S. as children without legal permission, if they meet certain criteria. Sessions said the program was “unilateral executive amnesty,” and said its beneficiaries had taken away jobs from “hundreds of thousands of Americans.”

The Department of Homeland Security, which administers the program, said on its website immediately after the announcement that current recipients can continue working until their permits, which last two years, expire. Those with DACA work permits that expire between Sept. 5 and March 5, 2018, are eligible to renew them, the website says, but they won’t be able to renew after that two-year extension.

Just hours after Sessions’ announcement, however, the president, in a tweet, said he would “revisit” the decision if Congress fails to pass a legislative solution to help the program’s beneficiaries, who now find themselves in an uncertain future.

“Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!” Trump tweeted Sept. 14.

Trump-friendly, right-wing conservative outlets such as Breibart and the Washington Examiner quickly lashed out at the president’s tweets and warned him about not crossing the “red line” of amnesty. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, as well as a variety of national Catholic groups, has repeatedly called for a solution that would allow the young migrants to stay and continue their lives in the U.S.

The Catholic bishops of Arizona and New Mexico issued a joint statement Aug. 31 ahead of the announcement ending the program, reiterating their “strong and unwavering support for DACA youth so they do not have to live in fear of deportation.”

“These young people entered our country as children and should have the opportunity to remain in our country to be educated here and to have opportunities to exercise their gifts for the enhancement of our nation,” the bishops said.

“We urge our federal elected officials to move forward with permanent solutions that grant relief to these young people along with the chance to earn permanent residency and eventually to seek citizenship,” they added. “We ask that all people of goodwill join us in praying and advocating for governmental efforts to protect DACA youth and for reform of our broken immigration policies.”

Pope Francis chimed in on the issue while answering questions from reporters on his flight from Colombia back to Rome late Sept. 10. When asked about the president’s decision to end the program, he said he had heard of the decision, but had not had time to study the details of the issue. However, he said, “uprooting young people from their families is not something that will bear fruit.”

“This law, which I think comes not from the legislature, but from the executive (branch) — if that’s right, I’m not sure — I hope he rethinks it a bit,” the pope said, “because I’ve heard the president of the United States speak; he presents himself as a man who is pro-life, a good pro-lifer.

“If he is a good pro-lifer, he understands that the family is the cradle of life and its unity must be defended,” the pope said.

Pope Francis said people must be very careful not to dash the hopes and dreams of young people or make them feel “a bit exploited,” because the results can be disastrous, leading some to turn to drugs or even suicide.

A variety of polls show wide support, even among Republicans, for DACA beneficiaries. That support, however, does not seep into Trump’s base, which was further angered when Pelosi and Schumer said the DACA deal they had talked about with the president did not include funding for a border wall.

Some had seen DACA as a bargaining chip to get enough Democrats to vote for a U.S. taxpayer-funded big border wall between the U.S. and Mexico that the president had promised his base. Although the president said Mexico would pay for the wall, Mexican government officials have balked at the idea.

The president said Sept. 14 that “the wall will come later.”

Some conservatives are warning that any deal involving DACA or reneging on building the wall could cost Trump the support that got him elected.

Some are asking for patience. Though the president had the very public meeting with the Democrats, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, said Congress has made no formal deals about DACA or any other immigration measure.

“These were discussions, not negotiations,” Ryan said on Sept. 14.

Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares will celebrate a Mass with DACA students and their families at 4:30 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 23 at St. Agnes Parish. The parish will also be hosting a DACA clinic throughout the day at no cost to help people fill out their applications. After the Mass, students will share their stories and an immigration attorney will be available to answer questions.

Cindy Wooden contributed to this article from aboard the papal flight from Colombia.