Arizona bishops praise Supreme Court DACA decision

Protesters hold various signs and banners at a Sept. 5, 2017 DACA rally in San Francisco. (Creative Commons/Pax Ahimsa Gethen)

The bishops of Arizona praised the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision striking down the Trump Administration’s attempt to repeal the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals, or DACA program June 18.

“From our own personal experiences, we know of the tremendous contributions DACA recipients have made across Arizona and throughout our many parishes and consider them a blessing,” the bishops wrote in a statement published by the Arizona Catholic Conference, the official public policy arm for the Catholic dioceses of Arizona. Signatories include Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger of Tucson, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted and Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares of Phoenix, Bishop James S. Wall of Gallup and Bishop John S. Pazak of the Holy Protection of Mary Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Phoenix.

DACA was created by President Barack Obama in 2012 through executive order to allow individuals who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children to receive a renewal two-year period of deferred action from deportation and become eligible to work. Recipients of are eligible for the program if they have:

  • Arrived in the country before their 16th birthday
  • Lived continuously in the United States since June 15, 2007
  • Been younger than 31 and physically present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012
  • Completed high school or a GED, been honorably discharged from the armed forces or are enrolled in school; and
  • Not been convicted of a felony or serious misdemeanors, or three or more other misdemeanors and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.

In September of 2017, the President Donald Trump announced that the program would be phased out and would not accept new applicants. The president gave Congress a six-month timeframe to enact parts of the program into law, but Congress failed to do so by March 2018.

Out of nearly 800,000 DACA recipients in the U.S., approximately 25,000 of them are in Arizona.

“We are very much mindful that DACA children were often brought to this country at a very young age and through no responsibility of their own,” the bishops wrote in their statement. “They were raised in the United States, attend our schools, make positive contributions to our society and do not know any other country but our own.”

A coalition of community organizations held a protest against Arizona SB 1070 April 26, 2010 at the downtown Minneapolis Hilton where a fundraising was being held for the Minnesota Family Council attended by Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty and Fox News personality Mike Huckabee. The protest was supported by groups such as SEIU local 26 and the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Coalition. (Creative Commons/Fibonacci Blue)

In a majority opinion written mostly by Republican-appointed Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by Democrat-appointed Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, the Court said that that the Department of Homeland Security failed to meet the Administrative Procedure Act’s (APA) standard of providing “a reasoned explanation” for its ending DACA in September of 2017. Roberts wrote the opinion except for Part IV.

The DHS “failed to consider” the impact its rule would have on DACA recipients, the Court said, as well as “whether to retain forbearance.”

“That dual failure raises doubts about whether the agency appreciated the scope of its discretion or exercised that discretion in a reasonable manner,” the ruling stated.

Democrat-appointed Justice Sonia Sotomayor also joined the opinion except for that section, adding that as the Court “forecloses any challenge to the rescission under the Equal Protection Clause,” that action was “unwarranted.”

Republican-appointed Justice Clarence Thomas, meanwhile, concurred with the judgement in part and dissented in part, and his opinion was joined by Republican-appointed Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch. Alito and Republican-appointed Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote separate opinions concurring in part and dissenting in part from the majority opinion.

The Obama administration, Thomas wrote, created the DACA program in 2012 “without any statutory authorization and without going through the requisite rulemaking process,” after Congress repeatedly tried and failed to pass legislation granting legal status to immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

Members of the Franciscan Action Network hold vigil during the Supreme Court hearings on Arizona’s immigration law SB 1070 in this April 25, 2012 photo. (Creative Commons/ILoveStFrancis)

The Trump administration also acted “unilaterally, and through a mere memorandum” in ending the program, he wrote. Rather than rule that the program was unlawful to begin with, the Court simply sent the matter back to DHS to be reworked rather than leave the policymaking to Congress, he said.

“The Court could have made clear that the solution respondents seek must come from the Legislative Branch. Instead, the majority has decided to prolong DHS’ initial overreach by providing a stopgap measure of its own,” he wrote.

Following the ruling, Chad Wolf, Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security criticized the decision, saying that the program was “created out of thin air” and “implemented illegally.”

“DACA recipients deserve closure and finality surrounding their status here in the U.S. Unfortunately, today’s Supreme Court decision fails to provide that certainty,” Wolf said. “The American people deserve to have the nation’s laws faithfully executed as written by their representatives in Congress — not based on the arbitrary decisions of a past administration. This ruling usurps the clear authority of the Executive Branch to end unlawful programs.”

The bishops expressed concern that, despite the ruling, protections for DACA recipients are still only temporary.

“Despite today’s favorable ruling, however, the irreparable harm these families would face through potential separation remains a grave concern if the DACA protections are ultimately terminated.”

Protesters gather for a peaceful demonstration May 1, 2010 at Lafayette Park, in front of the White House in Washington, D.C. against Arizona’s adoption of State Bill 1070. The law, also known as the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, required that law enforcement officers attempt to determine an individual’s immigration status during a “lawful stop, detention or arrest”, when there is “reasonable suspicion that the individual is an illegal immigrant.” The Supreme Court struck down most of the law in 2012. (Creative Commons/Nevele Otseog)

The bishops’ statement followed a joint statement from Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Auxiliary Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville of Washington, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration. The USCCB statement began by assuring DACA youth that the bishops will continue to accompany them and their families.

“You are a vital part of our Church and our community of faith,” they said. “We are with you.”

Archbishop Gomez and Bishop Dorsonville also urged Trump to “strongly reconsider” ending DACA, citing the passage from 1 John stating that “If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him?” (3:17).

“Immigrant communities are really hurting now amidst COVID-19 and moving forward with this action needlessly places many families into further anxiety and chaos,” they said. “In this moment, we must show compassion and mercy for the vulnerable.”

Finally, they urged all Catholics to encourage their senators to pass legislation that provides a path to citizenship for DACA recipients and other Dreamers. The senators currently representing Arizona are Republican Martha McSally, who is up for election this cycle, and Democrat Kyrsten Sinema.

“Permanent legislative protection that overcomes partisanship and puts the human dignity and future of Dreamers first is long overdue.”

Reporting on the Supreme Court’s rulings was taken from a Catholic News Agency article by Matt Hadro.

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