Ever since the announcement in September of this year that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA) is to end, my hope has been that Congress acts swiftly and effectively to provide a sensible solution that will be beneficial to the young men and women who now have DACA protections.
These individuals have already been vetted by the Department of Homeland Security as men and women of good moral character, and have no criminal history. These 800,000 young people were brought into the United States as infants or children by their parents without authorization, and the United States is the only country they know. Unfortunately three of the six months have passed before DACA ends and Congress has not taken action. The program is scheduled to expire on March 5th, 2018, unless Congress acts to make DACA protections permanent or enacts comprehensive immigration reform.
Under the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest Recruitment Program, there are currently 900 DACA recipients serving in our military. After March 5th, they will no longer be able to honorably serve their country. Since the inception of DACA in 2012, Teach for America, a nonprofit organization that hires young people to teach in low-income community schools, has employed nearly 200 DACA recipients impacting over 10,000 students.
As I visit the many parishes of our diocese, I meet countless faithful and hardworking men and women of every background, race and ethnicity. As a pastor, I gather all into one flock. Many DACA recipients belong to the flock entrusted to me, and I am concerned for them.
Immigration law has substantially changed from the time most of our ancestors arrived into our country, making it imperative not to compare times past when the doors to our country were open to the current moment when paths to immigrate are extremely limited and restricted.
Our Catholic Diocese of Savannah and our country need these optimistic, hardworking young men and women. They have already demonstrated honesty, hard work, civic cooperation and a willingness to be part of our American society. The Catholic Church in the United States has always welcomed the newcomer in our midst, and worked to provide immigrants with the pastoral and material support they need. Today, DACA recipients need our prayers and support. These men and women and their families worship with us at our parishes, study in our schools, and work in various vital industries of South Georgia.
This is an urgent moment in time. It is time to reach out to our elected officials and urge them to take action preferably before Christmas. Take a few moments to write, call, or e-mail your elected officials to express your support for pending legislation that will resolve the status of these DACA protected young men and women. I have already done so.
It will be in our best interest for Congress to respond in a manner that does not interrupt the education, employment and dreams of these young people who yearn for reasonable and effective immigration policy.
Most Reverend Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., is the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Savannah.