More than 20 bishops along the border of Texas and Northern Mexico met in San Antonio Feb. 26-28 for their bi-annual gathering to discuss issues of mutual interest. These meetings, which include priests, religious and layperson as well as invited representatives from other border dioceses in the United States and Mexico, have taken place for more than 30 years. The bishops met on the campus of the Mexican American Catholic College.
A subject at the forefront of this gathering was immigration. The meeting began on Feb. 26, Catholic Call-in Day for Dreamers, an effort of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
National Catholic Call-In Day to Protect Dreamers asked the faithful across the nation to call their members of Congress to protect Dreamers from deportation, to provide them a path to citizenship, and to avoid any damage to existing protections for families and unaccompanied minors in the process.
Two federal judges blocked the March 5 expiration date for DACA, and on Feb. 26, the first day of the border bishops meeting, the Supreme Court declined to hear an immediate review from the Trump administration protesting this decision, effectively punting the DACA issue to the fall.
Although the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protections did not expire in early March, the passage of the original deadline has highlighted the uncertain fate of more than half a million Dreamers.
DACA is an Obama-era program created by executive order that offered work permits and temporary protection from deportation to people who were brought illegally to the United States as children and who registered with the program, known as Dreamers.
In September 2017, President Donald Trump sought to end the program, and gave Congress a six-month period to codify parts of DACA into law. March 5 was named as the end date for the original program. However, Congress failed to pass any legislation relating to immigration reform during this time.
Despite moving to end the program, Trump administration officials have said that they will not seek to target DACA recipients for deportation if the program expires. President Donald Trump has suggested an immigration reform plan that would tie DACA provisions to increased legal immigration restrictions and border security measures, including the building of a border wall. This plan, criticized by Senate Democrats, was not passed.
Without a firm deadline to codify DACA into law, it is unclear what will happen to the program. CNN suggested that lawmakers may try to pass legislation on the issue by March 23, the next government funding deadline, but sources involved in the process said that an agreement was unlikely. In January, the government shut down for nearly three days over the immigration issue.
“Our faith compels us to stand with the vulnerable, including our immigrant brothers and sisters,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and president of the USCCB. “We have done so continually, but we must show our support and solidarity now in a special way.”
Archbishop Jose. H. Gomez of Los Angeles, vice-president of the USCCB and former archbishop of San Antonio, has in the past been critical of efforts to tie immigration reform with border security, saying last month that it is “cruel” to use DACA recipients as “bargaining chips.”
“[T]his is no way for a great nation to make policy on such a crucial area as immigration,” he said.
Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, said that the faithful who participated in the National Call-in Day for Dreamers last month “recognize that protecting these young people from deportation is an issue of human life and dignity, and that a legislative solution is necessary to make that protection durable.”
“My brother bishops and I continue to call upon Congress to work towards a bipartisan and humane solution as soon as possible,” he said.
The Tex-Mex border bishops celebrated two public Masses during their time in the Alamo city; on Feb. 27 at San Fernando Cathedral and Feb. 28 at Our Lady’s Chapel at Assumption Seminary.
Next year’s gathering will again take place in February in Mexico.
Catholic News Agency contributed to this report.