Catholic colleges, universities can be leaders on DACA, panelists say

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, August 5, 2020

DACA demonstrators gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington April 18, 2016. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Catholic colleges and universities can be leaders in advocating for undocumented students, but to do so, they must take a public stand.

That was one of the lessons offered by participants in “DACA and the Process of Creating Systemic Change,” a July 30 virtual panel discussion that was part of the Pastoral Migratoria National online summer series. The event had an online audience of more than 200 from around the United States.

This summer has seen highs and lows for people with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status. The program, started by executive order of President Barack Obama in 2012, protects young people who were brought to the United States as children without documents, during certain years, from deportation as long as they meet certain conditions. It also allows them to go to college, work and get driver’s licenses.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Trump administration effort to end the program was illegal because it was “arbitrary and capricious.” On July 28, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf issued a memorandum saying that, despite the Supreme Court decision, it would not accept new applications for DACA status and limit renewals to one year instead of two, without reducing the cost.

“In the practical day-to-day application, DACA recipients will have to pay more for the same amount of protection,” said Ashley Feasley, director of policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Office for Justice for Immigrants.

Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the bishops’ conference and Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington and chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, issued a statement on July 31 saying they are “deeply disappointed” by the move.

“The new limits outlined in the administration’s memorandum directly and negatively impact immigrant youth, their families and the communities we serve,” the statement said. “We urge the president to reinstate the original protections that DACA provides to young people currently enrolled in the program, as well as to begin accepting new prospective DACA applicants.”

The bishops also urged the U.S. Senate to take up legislation already passed by the House of Representatives to permanently resolve the status of “Dreamers,” or those who were brought to the United States as children without documentation.

Mark Kuczewski, director of the Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics and Health Policy at Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine, said Catholic social teaching means Catholic institutions of higher learning are positioned to lead on the issue.

“Some institutions, like the Catholics, can and should lead,” said Kuczewski, who was known as an advocate for undocumented patients at Loyola University Medical Center before championing the move to get medical school to admit undocumented students with DACA status in 2012.

For three years, he said, Loyola was the only medical school in the country to accept DACA students, who are not eligible for federal financial aid. During that time, the volume of applications it received from citizens as well as undocumented students increased dramatically.

Since then, Kuczewski said, he has met with representatives from all kinds of institutions considering admitting DACA students. While public universities have to handle political pressure, other colleges have their own questions.

“From private, non-faith-based institutions, there’s a lot of questions about why one should bother [to accept students with DACA status],” he said. “I used to go to the big picture, and say one wants to be on the right side of history. Lately, we’ve be able to say more practical things. There were a lot of students who wanted to be at a university that took this kind of stand.”

Sumbul Siddiqui, who has DACA status and is working on both a medical degree and a master’s in public health at Loyola, talked about the hope she felt when she heard about Loyola after being shut out of other medical schools.

Siddiqui was born in Saudi Arabia, which does not have birthright citizenship, to a Pakistani family. The family moved to Georgia when she was 4 years old and she wasn’t aware of her undocumented status until she was a senior in high school and applying to colleges.

She went to Agnes Scott College with the help of an international student scholarship. She joked that she started working at Dunkin’ Donuts for the coffee as well as the money when she got DACA status. She volunteered in research labs, hospitals and free clinics because she could not participate in federally funded research programs, and graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience.

She is worried about what will happen if the Trump administration is successful in rescinding DACA and what that will do to her ability to complete her training with residency.

Still, she said, she is grateful for the opportunities she has had.

“I’m grateful for everything I have, for the sacrifices my parents have made for us to be here, and for our allies,” she said. She urged those allies to keep working. “If you can’t make those changes on a federal level, then think about the state level. Think about the community level, or changes you can make in your own organization.”

Donna Carroll, president of Dominican University in River Forest, has been advocating for undocumented students since 2005. She said she has learned that, to be effective, support for undocumented students must be clear and public.

“You can’t just care,” Carroll said. “You can’t just accompany. You have to take a public stand.”

The good news, she said, is that speaking out is not as scary as she thought it would be. In Dominican’s case, even donors and alumni who did not agree with the university’s advocacy came to see it as a mission-driven statement.

Still, because undocumented students, even those with DACA status, do not qualify for most government aid, the university cannot afford to admit all of those who are qualified, she said. About 10 percent — more than 200 — current Dominican students are undocumented.

“For each of them, there are five more who are qualified that we couldn’t afford to help,” she said. “That’s what motivates me to keep working. I’ve learned to flip my thinking, to view our Dreamers not as vulnerable students who need our charity, but as talented, asset-building members of our communities who need equitable opportunities.”

Vincentian Father Guillermo Campuzano, vice president of mission and ministry at DePaul University, said Catholic institutions such as his must recognize the value of every student, regardless of status.

“Our commitment with them is related to who we are institutionally,” he said. “We see their dignity as undeniable and non-negotiable. We belong to each other, and our dignity is connected to each other.”

Elena Segura, senior coordinator for immigration ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Red Nacional de Pastoral Migratoria, said it is events like the panel discussion that keep her working toward immigration reform.

“Since 2005, the Catholic community has been working for justice for immigrants. We have been working 15 years for this, and events like this one help encourage us to continue this long journey,” she said.


  • immigration ministry
  • daca

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