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Catholic academics urge protection of undocumented students

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Credit: Ryan Tyler Smith via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Washington D.C., May 24, 2017 / 08:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In the wake of increased government crackdown on immigration, a letter was sent to the Department of Homeland Security voicing Catholic support for programs promoting deferred deportation.

“As leaders of Catholic colleges and universities, we are dedicated to educating students from all backgrounds,” read the May 23 statement with over 65 signatures from presidents of Catholic colleges throughout the U.S. “In keeping with this commitment, many of our institutions are home to young men and women who are undocumented and have met the criteria for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). We are deeply concerned about the futures of our undocumented students.”

The letter was addressed to John Kelly, secretary of the DHS. It requested that he meet with leaders of Catholic colleges to discuss greater involvement and understanding of current immigration policies aimed at protecting undocumented migrants with no criminal activity. “We would like to better understand how immigration enforcement agencies in the Department of Homeland Security, including ICE and Customs and Border Patrol, approach DACA holders during targeted enforcement actions, police encounters or in public.”

The statement responds to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement which said that the reprieve granted to undocumented childhood arrivals isn't necessarily legally binding, but that they are less of a priority to deport than undocumented immigrants with criminal charges.

“DACA is not a protected legal status, but active DACA recipients are typically a lower level of enforcement priority,” the group said in a tweet in March.

Individuals who are registered for DACA are also known as “DREAMers,” since many meet the general requirements of the 2001 Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was a policy put in place by the Obama administration in 2012. The policy promised to defer deportation for two year periods to those who qualified underneath the program’s guidelines. In order to apply for DACA a person must be under the age 31 before June 2012, moved to the US before turning the age of 16, has a high school degree or are aiming to receive one, and has no record of felony charges, significant misdemeanors, or three smaller misdemeanors.

According to a study released in January by the Pew Research Center, over 750,000 undocumented migrants have received either deportation relief or work permits since the program’s establishment. The current administration has a stricter interpretation of immigration policy than Obama's, but President Donald Trump has stated that he would not revoke the DACA program. He said targets for immigration enforcement will be criminals and not “DREAMers.”

Cracking down on immigration was a major platform of President Trump’s campaign. According to ICE, over 41,000 suspected undocumented immigrants have been arrested this year, a nearly 38 percent increase since this time last year. However, just because “DREAMers” aren't targeted does not mean they are not affected.

The letter cited that 10 DACA recipients have been arrested and one has been deported since President Donald Trump took office this year. DACA does not commission legal protection or defines legal status of the individual. But the policy is rather an omission by the DHS in order to ignore legal action, which they may have been carried out as defined by the immigration laws. The policy does not necessarily bind the government to inaction, and even though the Trump administration has stressed the arrest of DACA immigrants to be of minute importance, there is still a danger that “DREAMers” will still be subject to punishment.

John Kelly confirmed a statement from President Trump that migrants like “Dreamers” will not be targeted, but only the immigrants with criminal records. However, Kelly acknowledged that laws were already broken in illegally crossing the border, and said “Dreamers” may still be subject to negative ramifications. “People fall into our hands incidentally that we have no choice in most cases but to go ahead and put in the system,” said Kelly in an April 23 interview with CBS.

The letter stated that protecting the vulnerable is a Christian obligation, and applauded the policy’s ability to help undocumented students within the US. “The DACA policy has enabled our students to continue their studies and pursue careers in their chosen fields, from education to medicine, despite great anxiety and uncertainty.”

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