Catholics Arrested While Calling for Better Protections for Dreamers

February 28, 2018 | SOJOURNERS | Link to Story

Dreamers are running out of time.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program, which provided temporary visas to undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, is scheduled to end on March 5. A brief respite came Monday, when the Supreme Court dealt a setback to the Trump administration by refusing to hear the administration's appeal of a federal judge's Jan. 9 injunction that halted the administration's move to rescind DACA.   

But the rulings are temporary. At the Capitol on Tuesday, Catholic leaders demanded the immediate passing of a clean Dream Act. Dozens of nuns and other Catholic leaders were arrested after a worship service and civil disobedience at the Russell Senate Building, while hundreds of others more gathered in support.

Sister Tracy Kemme, a justice advocate and a Sister of Charity, began the event, calling the movement “a moral moment of truth.”

“We are here today to call on our legislators, especially our Catholic legislators, to pass a Dream Act that supports and protects our immigrant youth,without harming their families or communities,” she said. “There is no time left. We need a breakthrough for Dreamers today.”

A series of speakers emphasized the "empty promises" to protect Dreamers made by the United States government. To date, Congress has failed to pass legislation to address the fate of the Dreamers — including a potential path to citizenship.

Sister JoAnn Persch summed up the feelings of many when she told the crowd, “I am here because I’m frustrated. My prayer, my work for comprehensive immigration reform has had no impact on this administration … right now, the 1.8 million Dreamers are being used as pawns on a chessboard, without any thought of these wonderful young men and women.”

Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Ky., echoed Persch.

“Now we find the clock ticking, and DACA nearing its conclusion,” he said. “Our Dreamers have heard plenty of false promises, but their lives are on hold. Our Dreamers have heard all kinds of people say they stand with them, [only] to forget them when it becomes difficult.”

During the worship service, Catholic leaders lead prayers and songs, lifting up the voices and stories of Dreamers.

A Dreamer named Daniel Neri also highlighted church teachings on the body of Christ.

“We are one body. And when we remember that way, that we are one body ... they aren’t merely words. Look around us. This is what one body looks like,” he said.

The crowd began to pray the rosary, during which they remembered the suffering of Jesus during his final hours, while also calling attention to the suffering and fear felt by Dreamers and their families. The praying of the rosary continued inside Russell, while Catholic leaders were arrested.

The action Tuesday, organized by several groups including the Franciscan Action Network and PICO, was the latest in a series of religious demonstrations on the Hill in defense of Dreamers. In September, shortly after Trump’s announcement rescinding DACA, faith leaders washed the feet of Dreamers at the Capitol Building. And in January, 82 Jewish rabbis and allies were arrested at a protest to extend DACA, while faith leaders and Dreamers held a candlelit vigil.

While many gathered expressed frustration and urgency, they framed their calls in hope of concrete action.

“Giving legal status to Dreamers is not a political issue. It is a moral issue,” said Father Tom Reese, a Jesuit priest and popular Catholic columnist. “It is time for the people who worked in that building [pointing to the Capitol] to realize this is a moral issue, this is a justice issue. And the political gamesmanship must stop.” He was arrested shortly after.