By Minyoung Ohm
RIS Staff Attorney
It has been more than one year since the Catholic Legal Immigration Network’s (CLINIC) Religious Immigration Services (RIS) Section began taking cases for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Back on June 15, 2012, the Department of Homeland Security announced a new process that allowed prosecutorial discretion to “dreamers,” or the young people who came into 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 provided hope for the young people who lived in the shadows as “undocumented” immigrants. These young adults were unable to obtain social security numbers or driver’s licenses because they did not have valid immigration status.
Since June 2012, RIS has handled a number of DACA cases. In the spring of 2013, our clients started receiving work authorization cards and approval notices for applications that were filed in late 2012. 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, obtained work permits, social security numbers, and driver’s licenses, and are able to live out their lives for everyone to see.
The DACA applicants who came to RIS for assistance are young people aged between 20 and 30 who are discerning religious life in formation. These applicants grew up in the United States, speak English, attended local middle and high schools, and somehow, in their life’s journey, encountered God’s calling to pursue a religious vocation. For example, a 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 14 years old. Her parents, who were struggling in Mexico, wanted to move the family into 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, she is currently studying theology and philosophy at her religious community’s juniorite house and providing pastoral services to nearby parishes, such as teaching catechism to youths, caring for those dealing with depression and alcohol problems, and praying for spiritual refreshment with Catholics who gather at retreats.
Another DACA applicant is a Religious Brother from Peru. He originally came to the United States with his family on a tourist visa at the age of 13. After arriving, his family decided to remain in the United States. He discovered at a young age that he was not legally in the U.S. and has lived in fear of deportation for both himself and his family. He joined a religious community following God’s calling to serve the disadvantaged youths. Since his DACA was approved, he obtained a social security number and a driver’s permit. He can now legally work. In fact, he is currently assigned by his religious superiors 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.
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.