It has been more than a year since the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc.’s (CLINIC) Religious Immigration Services (RIS) section began taking Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) cases. Back on June 15, 2012, the Department of Homeland Security announced a new process, granting relief to undocumented young people who came to the United States as children and do not have proper immigration documents. This new program allowed these young people to have work authorization and stay in the country without the threat of deportation. This announcement has provided hope for people who lived in the shadows for so long, unable to obtain social security numbers or even driver’s licenses because they did not have valid immigration status.
The DACA applicants who came to RIS for assistance are young people aged between 20 and 30 and discerning religious life in formation. These applicants grew up in the United States, speak English, attended local middle and high schools, and encountered God’s calling to pursue a religious vocation. One young religious sister, whose DACA application was approved in May 2013, came to the United States by crossing the Mexican border with her parents when she was just 14 years old. Her parents, who were struggling in Mexico, moved the family to the United States so that their children could have better lives. Growing up, she felt like she was living a segregated life because she was undocumented and had no identification. Now, thanks to DACA, she studies theology and philosophy at her religious community’s juniorate house, teaches catechism to youth, and provides pastoral services to nearby parishes, including caring for those suffering from depression and alcohol problems.
Another DACA applicant is a religious brother from Peru who also sought DACA to fulfill his religious vocation. He originally came to the United States with his family on a tourist visa at the age of 13 and, after arriving, his family decided to remain in the country. He discovered at a young age that he did not have legal status and lived in fear of deportation for both himself and his family. He joined a religious community in January of 2009, following God’s calling to serve disadvantaged youth. Since his DACA application was approved, he can legally work and has been assigned to teach religion at a Catholic high school. If he is approved for a travel document, he hopes to join missionary groups abroad and enrich his religious vocation by studying theology in Jerusalem.
Since August 2012, RIS has handled a number of DACA cases. In the spring of 2013, our clients, such as the religious sister, started receiving work authorization cards. It is exciting to see the approval notices, especially since just last year, attorneys were working hard to collect documents from these DACA applicants to show proof of their eligibility to the Department of Homeland Security. Now these young people have DACA approvals, work permits, social security numbers, and driver’s licenses, and are able to live out their lives for everyone to see.
Despite the positive impact made on the lives of these religious men and women, DACA is not a permanent solution, as it does not grant any legal status. We hope that Congress will pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform so these worthy religious men and women, along with other deserving immigrants who work hard and want to more fully contribute to the United States as productive members of society, are given a chance to live their lives out of the shadows and be on a pathway to permanent residence and eventual citizenship.
To learn more about Religious Immigration Services and the direct legal services CLINIC offers religious communities and Catholic Dioceses, visit: https://cliniclegal.org/programs/ReligiousImmigrationServices
Wondering if you’re eligible to benefit from the DACA Program? Find answers to our most frequently asked questions here: https://cliniclegal.org/resources/deferred-action-childhood-arrivals
*Minyoung Ohm is a Staff Attorney in CLINIC's Religious Immigration Services