The legal staff at Migration and Refugee Services, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Cleveland, faces daily challenges in keeping current with the changing landscape that affects its clients. Some are here legally; others are not, but each is a person with a story.
More aggressive tracking of immigrants who entered the country without proper documentation, uncertainty about renewals for those here legally from countries with Temporary Protected Status, and President Donald Trump’s proposal to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in March are creating ripples of concern throughout the immigrant community.
“This all highlights the need for comprehensive and compassionate immigration reform,” said Camille Gill, MRS managing attorney.
Immigration reform is championed also by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and has the support of Cleveland Bishop Nelson Perez.
Bishop Perez weighed in on the cancelation of the DACA program and expressed his concern, love and support for the DACA youth in the diocese. He also is urging the faithful to lobby Congress to find a way to legislatively protect DACA recipients who were brought to the United States as children by their parents, most of whom entered the country illegally.
“In my experience as a bishop, I have had the opportunity to meet with young people who have benefitted from the DACA program. I know that there are many of these children here in our diocesan community. Many of their families have received support and assistance from our parishes and from Catholic Charities. They live and worship in our parishes; some have attended our schools, played on our sports teams and become friends of our children,” he said.
The first wave of DACA recipients could face removal in March, Gill said.
“They, as young people, are bright, energetic and eager to pursue their education and training and reach their full potential as contributing members of our communities. They did not enter our nation on their own volition, but rather came to the United States as children with their parents.”
“The president’s decision now places responsibility for responding to the hopes and dreams of these DACA youth on the Congress. He has indicated that Congress should work on developing a permanent legislative solution to their current uncertain status,” the bishop said.
The USCCB opposes “enforcement only” immigration policies and supports comprehensive immigration reform, including earned legalization, a future worker program, family-based immigration reform, restoration of due process rights, addressing root causes of immigration including underdevelopment and poverty, and revamping the enforcement program.
According to the USCCB, the Catholic Catechsim instructs that good government has two duties that must be carried out: to welcome the foreigner out of charity and respect for the human person and to secure one’s border and enforce the law for the sake of the common good.
Gill said the stricter immigration enforcement policies, possible end of the DACA program and uncertainty about the TPS program – which traditionally was renewed in 18-month increments for various countries like Haiti, Honduras and El Salvador — are causing confusion and concern locally and across the country. Part of the problem that that there are some misconceptions about crime being higher among the immigrant population.
“That simply isn’t true,” she said, citing a study by the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit, nonadvocacy think tank. The study shows that the crime rate among the immigrant population is significantly lower than that of second-generation and native-born Americans. Pew studies indicate crime rates among the second generation mirrors that of native-born Americans, likely because of assimilation.
There is a huge backlog of immigration cases and Gill fears if lawmakers do not address the immigration situation, thousands more will wind up in the court system.
She said those here under DACA and the TPS program, which grants legal status due to a natural disaster or other crisis in their home country, pay taxes and contribute to the economy, as do untold numbers of other immigrants. If these programs end, nationwide about 800,000 DACA recipients and about another 200,000 covered by TPS could face removal, which would have a dramatic effect on the economy, she said.
In the meantime, Gill said her office continues to assist as many clients as possible while the volume of work continues to grow. The efforts of three MRS attorneys and two paralegals are being supplemented by a dozen volunteer retired lawyers and law students.
“The piece that people often overlook is that this affects families,” Gill said. “These people build lives here and suddenly they are ordered out. Comprehensive, compassionate immigration reform is needed, but a fix for the DACA program would be a good start.”
How can you help?
Write to your senator and/or congressional representative and ask them to support comprehensive and compassionate immigration reform. This link will help you find the name and contact information for your congressman: house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative. Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman can be reached through this link: senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm?State=OH