WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court dealt a blow to the Trump administration's effort to end a program in March that protects young adults brought to the U.S. without legal permission as minors.
On Feb. 26, the court declined to hear and rule on whether the administration has the right to shut down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program.
In September, President Donald Trump announced his administration was ending the program, giving lawmakers until March 5 to find a legislative solution to protect the young adults benefiting from DACA.
Two federal judges have blocked the Trump administration's efforts to end the program, ruling the government must continue to accept renewal applications for DACA. In turn, the administration asked the Supreme Court to hear and rule on one of those decisions, from a judge in California, in an effort to bypass the process of an appeal going through the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in San Francisco.
That means the March 5 deadline essentially no longer of any significance and those benefiting from DACA can keep applying to renew permits that protect them from deportation and allow them to have a work permit and other documents, as long as they meet certain criteria.
In a brief unsigned comment, the court stated it expected the Court of Appeals "will proceed expeditiously to decide this case."
The decision was announced the day the U.S. Conference Catholic Bishops called for a "National Call-in Day for the Protection of Dreamers," encouraging Catholics to call their representatives in Congress to urge support for the young adults called "Dreamers."
The name comes from the DREAM Act — the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act. The legislative proposal has explored allowing qualifying youth conditional residency and down the line permanent residency, but it has been repeatedly defeated in Congress.
The court's decision may delay the end of the DACA program, started in 2012 by President Barack Obama via executive order, but immigrant advocates continued to urge action to provide the youth with permanent relief.
Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Migration, wrote in a statement Feb. 27 that despite the delay in ending DACA, "the anxiety and uncertainty that Dreamers and their families face remain unabated. ... My brother bishops and I continue to call upon Congress to work toward a bipartisan and humane solution as soon as possible."
He praised Catholics who took part in the national call-in day.
"Although the Supreme Court decision buys Congress time to address the situation of undocumented youth, it should not give them an excuse to delay action," said Kevin Appleby, senior director of international migration policy for the Center for Migration Studies in New York. "These young people remain at risk and deserve permanent protection and a chance to plan their futures. Catholic advocates should continue to push Congress and the president to grant them a path to citizenship."
Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, in a statement and via Twitter, warned Feb. 26 that the high court's decision "does not change anything."
"It is long past time for members of Congress to take their responsibilities seriously — seriously enough that they are willing to act with courage to negotiate and seek compromises and resist the temptation to keep using this issue for their political advantage," he stated. "People's lives and families' futures hang in the balance."
Without legislative protection, "these young people will lose their permission to work in this country and face deportation. This is wrong and it is up to Congress to make it right," he said.
Other bishops throughout the country, too, voiced their support for the youth during the call-in day.
In an opinion piece for The New York Times titled "If You're a Patriot and a Christian, You Should Support the Dream Act," Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, N.J., wrote that "the Gospel of Jesus Christ calls on us to welcome and protect the stranger. This should not be hard to do when the stranger is young, blameless and working hard to make this country a better place."
Dozens of Catholics arrested as they ask Congress to help 'Dreamers'
Dozens of Catholics, including men and women religious, were arrested near the U.S. Capitol Feb. 27 in the rotunda of a Senate building in Washington as they called on lawmakers to help young undocumented adults brought to the U.S. as minors obtain permanent legal status.
Some sang and prayed, and many of them — such as Dominican Sister Elise Garcia and Mercy Sister JoAnn Persch — said they had no option but to participate in the act of civil disobedience to speak out against the failure of Congress and the Trump administration to help the young adults.
"I have never been arrested in my life, but with the blessing of my community, I am joining with two dozen other Catholic sisters and Catholic allies to risk arrest today as an act of solidarity with our nation's wonderful, beautiful Dreamers," said Sister Garcia. "To our leaders in Congress and in the White House, I say 'Arrest a nun, not a Dreamer.'"
She said she was there to support those like Daniel Neri, a Catholic from Indiana who was present at the event and would benefit from any legislation to help the 1.8 million estimated young adults in the country facing an uncertain future.
"What are we doing to the body of Christ when we are hurting families? When we are hurting people?" Neri asked. He also said, he wanted people to know that "we are not criminals, we are not rapists, we are good people."
Young adults called "Dreamers" go through extensive background checks, he said, and they wouldn't pass the checks if they were troublemakers.
Jesuit Father Thomas Reese said he was representing Jesuits from the West Coast and other Jesuits, who know exactly who "Dreamers" are.
"They are our students, sitting in our classrooms, they are our parishioners, kneeling in our churches," he said. "They are our friends, they are our colleagues who have invited us into their homes."
Pointing to the U.S. Capitol building, where lawmakers gather, he said, "it is time for the people who work in that building to realize that this is a moral issue. It is a justice issue, and the political gamesmanship must stop."
Sister Persch said she was there to support Dreamers. "My prayer, my work for comprehensive immigration reform has had no impact on this administration. I stand with Dreamers now at this moment of truth, which to me is a moral issue. When these traditional strategies we have used have no impact, we have to move to action that could involve taking a risk to disrupt this unjust system in some way."
And if that meant being arrested, she was willing to do so, she said.