Can you imagine children returning home from school and not finding their parents there? Kids waiting until past their bedtime and their parents still do not come home — and not knowing that their parents won’t be coming home because they have been deported?
As a pastor I have seen such situations, but many people in our nation do not even believe that this happens here. In 2011 alone more than 5,100 children who are U.S. citizens were living in foster care after a parent’s detention or deportation.
Year after year and election cycle after election cycle, the United States has failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform. It seems that every time a serious effort is made to bring U.S. immigration law up to date, to correspond to real needs in the labor force, and to be humanitarian in the unification of families, a campaign of misinformed rhetoric, questionable data and fear-mongering are unleashed. This results in further failure to act and further hysteria about security at the borders.
There have been bi-partisan coalitions of business leaders, government officials, law enforcement personnel, human rights advocates, and religious leaders who all recognize the sanity and the necessity of making legal immigration a possibility for hardworking people who have a need to come to this country to survive and provide for their families.
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The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, along with numerous church bodies, have spent decades advocating for fair immigration laws. There has been no call to do away with protection of the borders, nor any denial of the sovereign nation’s rights to control its borders. The call has been to make the process fair and accessible for the benefit of all. This still has not happened.
Given the reality of deportations profoundly disrupting family life and disproportionately punishing the working poor, President Barack Obama expressed exasperation with the congressional failure and took executive action in the area of enforcement, clearly in the domain of the executive branch of government.
Before even addressing the merits of the president’s actions, it should be noted that the president himself has been slow to address immigration reform, weak in pursuing it as a priority, and has presided over the greatest number of removals and deportations of the undocumented.
In November 2014, Obama announced executive immigration initiatives including the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). These initiatives set very specific requirements to provide work permits for millions of undocumented immigrants. In February 2015, a federal court in Texas issued a national order putting these initiatives on hold. The Obama administration appealed to the Fifth District U.S. Court of Appeals but a divided court upheld the Texas federal district court’s order. Now, at the administration’s request, the Supreme Court will hear the case on April 18.
The Supreme Court should recognize that both Republican and Democratic presidents have issued numerous executive orders on immigration. Presidents have broad constitutional authority to set priorities for federal law enforcement agencies and legal scholars of a variety of political leanings recognize that the president’s actions are within the limits of his authority.
People of faith find repeated admonitions to welcome the stranger and protect the alien in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures and should be anxious to see the Supreme Court affirm the executive orders to allow 5 million or more people to work without fear of family separation through deportation.
The immigration system by all accounts is broken and the will to fix it has not overcome its many obstacles. Upholding the president’s executive action to halt deportations will make a difference in many lives and is the right, compassionate and fair thing to do.
The Rev. John Stowe is the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington