I was drawn to the work of Catholic Charities because of the core values that we put into action. Values like caring for the vulnerable among us, journeying alongside them toward better lives and, quite simply, acting with love and compassion.
Our mission calls us to the margins of our society. That is where we find those who need all of us the most. A family living in their car. A senior struggling to survive on her fixed income. An immigrant child fearing deportation to a place she’s never known.
Today, about 6,000 teenagers and young adults right in here in Sonoma County are living in that fear. Brought here from other countries as young children without proper immigration documentation, these are young people who contribute to the rich fabric of our community — and who are now at risk of being torn from that fabric through no fault of their own. These are the ‘dreamers’ at the heart of the debate around DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
Today, we’re responding to the federal administration’s decision to end the DACA program after a six-month delay, a decision that could lead to deportation of DACA recipients. To be clear, we support a comprehensive, compassionate, immigration reform plan, but we need to respond to the many lives disrupted by the current situation. Something to keep in mind is that the average age at which a DACA recipient came to the United States is 6½. These children grew up here. For many, this is the only country, the only home, they have ever known. They and their families are our neighbors, our coworkers, our kids’ friends and classmates.
Nearly 800,000 in number nationwide, these dreamers have been granted some of the privileges of legal residency. They have been carefully reviewed and cannot obtain their DACA status if they have criminal records. They go to college, are employed and hold driver’s licenses. They pay income tax and Social Security tax. More importantly, they have been given a viable chance of becoming true members of our community — all without fear of reprisal or persecution. Until now.
As the North Bay’s largest provider of immigration services, we have been flooded with DACA recipients who have been asking us questions in the wake of the recent decision. In response, we are dedicating all of our immigration efforts to helping people in this intolerable situation. Will dreamers be torn from their parents, their siblings, their communities? Some are parents themselves, with children born here. Will they be separated from their sons and daughters?
Ferreting the answers to these questions isn’t always easy. Our country’s immigration laws are a complex maze. Catholic Charities has seven immigration counselors certified by the U.S. Department of Justice available to help. But what is clear is that the debate over DACA goes beyond borders, boundaries and walls. It is not a matter of policy or politics but of the boundless and compassionate nature of the human heart.
I believe we are one family, no matter what national, racial or religious differences might seem to stand between us. We need one another, and we are responsible for the welfare of all.
Our challenge is to look upon this interdependence as a force for good. As such, it is something that we should treasure and nurture. Are we separated from one another by walls built of greed, acts of violence and fear? Or are all of us connected by an invisible yet invincible web of selfless humanitarianism, acts of kindness, compassion and love itself? I choose compassion and love.