Editor’s Note: Archbishop José H. Gomez, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Mexico, is author of “Immigration and the Next America: Restoring the Soul of our Nation.” He leads the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The views expressed in this column belong to Gomez.
The new year began with a new wave of government raids targeting immigrants from Central America and Mexico. About 120 were rounded up for deportation – mostly women and children, many of whom had come to the U.S. fleeing violence in their home countries.
The raids are yet another depressing sign of the failed state of American immigration policy.
After nearly a decade of debate, everyone agrees that our immigration system is broken and needs comprehensive reform. But year after year slips by without a solution. In the vacuum created by polarization and inaction, deportation has become our government’s “de facto” policy.
More than 2 million people have been deported in the last eight years alone. The overwhelming majority are not criminals. And up to one-quarter of recent deportations have been of a mother or father of a U.S. citizen child. In the name of enforcing our laws, we are breaking up families and punishing children for their parents’ mistakes.
That is why many of us in the faith community welcomed Tuesday’s news that the Supreme Court has agreed to take up the case of United States of America v. State of Texas.
The case is about executive actions taken in November 2014 by President Obama that would halt deportations for three years for undocumented people who have been in this country for at least five years or who have a child who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.
At the same time the President announced this policy – officially known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA – he also expanded a program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, that provides deportation relief to those brought to this country as children.
At the request of Texas and 25 other states, a federal appeals court blocked implementation of these executive actions. Late last year, the administration asked the Supreme Court to review the case.
I am not a constitutional scholar or a political leader. But as a pastor I see every day the rising human toll of our failed immigration policies, especially on families and children.
The immigrants in our communities came to this country with hopes and dreams for a better life for their children. They are no different from the generations that came before them, such as the Irish and Italian families depicted in the film “Brooklyn,” which is up for an Oscar this year.
Most of the 11 million undocumented people in the U.S. have been here for five years or more. About two-thirds have been here for at least a decade.
This is why our failure to enact comprehensive reforms is so cruel.
Millions right now are living in the shadows of this society in a kind of perpetual limbo, without full human rights and little hope for the future. It is hard to imagine the stress and anxiety they feel – the constant uncertainty and fear that one day without warning they won’t be coming home for dinner and may never see their families again.
The DAPA and DACA programs together would provide immediate relief and peace of mind, no matter how temporary, to up to 5.2 million of these people. About 5.5 million U.S. citizen children could benefit directly from their parents receiving deferred action under the DAPA program.
Right now, U.S. immigration policy betrays our country’s founding principles and historic commitment to be a beacon of hope for the peoples of every nation. The common good can never be served by deporting some little girl’s dad. A just and compassionate society must not allow this.
People do not cease to be our brothers and sisters just because they have an irregular immigration status. No matter how they got here, no matter how frustrated we are with our government, we cannot lose sight of their humanity – without losing our own.
The executive actions at stake in U.S. v. Texas are no substitute for the comprehensive immigration reform our nation needs. But until our leaders in Washington can find the humility and courage to set aside differences and seek a common solution, the Supreme Court may be our last resort to restore humanity to our immigration policy.