In a Sept. 15 letter to priests in the Archdiocese of Washington, Cardinal Wuerl again stated his support for young immigrants in the DACA program. (CS FILE PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN)
In a Sept. 15 letter to priests in the Archdiocese of Washington, Cardinal Wuerl again stated his support for young immigrants in the DACA program. (CS FILE PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN)

In a Sept. 15 letter to priests in the Archdiocese of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl again offered strong support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and he expressed hope that the Trump Administration and Congress will work together to forge a permanent solution to DACA.

Noting the archdiocese’s history of welcoming and serving newcomers, Cardinal Wuerl said the local Church would continue to stand in solidarity “with immigrant families, those young adults and children affected by the uncertainty of DACA, and anyone else in need.”

Cardinal Wuerl’s statement came in a month when the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and its Migration and Refugee Services, along with Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities USA, are leading U.S. efforts in Pope Francis’s Share the Journey campaign in support of migrants and refugees that kicks off on Sept. 27 at the Vatican.

The cardinal’s statements also came at a time when the Archdiocese of Washington is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its Spanish Catholic Center, an agency of Catholic Charities that provides medical and dental clinics, job training programs, legal assistance, a food pantry, English classes and case management to immigrants from around the world.

The DACA program administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security protects undocumented young people from immigration enforcement, enabling them to continue in school and get jobs. Many came to the United States as young children with their parents and grew up in this country. To participate in the program, they had to register their name and addresses, which many fear now puts them and their families at risk of deportation.

Before the Trump Administration announced its intent to allow the DACA program to expire in early 2018, Cardinal Wuerl had joined local Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders in signing an open letter to President Trump and Congress urging support for the DACA program. Those leaders wrote that “rescinding DACA would have widespread, devastating impact not only on a generation of industrious young people, but also on their families, communities, and our society as a whole.”

The interfaith leaders added, “It is our collective prayer that in the coming months, congressional leaders work together to pass sensible and comprehensive immigration reform that our country so desperately needs, including making the DACA program permanent.”

In his letter to priests, Cardinal Wuerl noted that he had issued a statement expressing regret at the Trump Administration’s decision on DACA, and he had embraced a related statement on that matter made by leaders in the bishops’ conference. That USCCB statement said the Administration’s “cancellation of the DACA program is reprehensible. It causes unnecessary fear for DACA youth and their families. These youth entered the U.S. as minors and often know America as their only home. The Catholic Church has long watched with pride and admiration as DACA youth live out their daily lives with hope and a determination to flourish and contribute to society: continuing to work and provide for their families, continuing to serve in the military, and continuing to receive an education. Now, after months of anxiety and fear about their futures, these brave young people face deportation. This decision is unacceptable and does not reflect who we are as Americans.”

The USCCB leaders in their statement urged Congress to find a legislative solution for DACA, adding, “DACA youth are woven into the fabric of our country and of our Church, and are, by every social and human measure, American youth.” The bishops added, “As people of faith, we say to DACA youth – regardless of your immigration status, you are children of God and welcome in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church supports you and will advocate for you."

Cardinal Wuerl in his Sept. 5 statement had noted, “I join those who urge that Congress moves swiftly on a permanent solution that ensures these young people can remain in the only homeland they have ever known.”

Since the Trump Administration announced its plan to let the DACA program expire early next year – with Attorney General Jeff Sessions saying he believed the DACA executive order under the Obama Administration had exceeded the authority of the executive branch, which cannot enact laws on its own – President Trump has encouraged Congress to pass a law establishing the DACA program on a permanent basis, and said he would support that legislation.

The cardinal concluded his letter to priests by noting the archdiocese’s extensive pastoral and material support for immigrants, and added, “Parish communities should accompany our immigrant families also with prayer, which can bring comfort and unity. We will continue to raise our voice in support of them and to work for permanent policies to ensure they remain a vibrant part of our Church in Washington.”

While most of the estimated one million young people in the DACA program are Hispanic, those immigrants also come from many other countries.

The Archdiocese of Washington includes more than 620,000 Catholics living in the nation’s capital and in the five surrounding Maryland counties of St. Mary’s, Charles, Calvert, Prince George’s and Montgomery. The archdiocese’s Office of Cultural Diversity and Outreach estimates that the archdiocese includes more than 230,000 Hispanic Catholics. Each weekend, 40 sites, including parishes and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land, offer Masses in Spanish. Masses are celebrated in the archdiocese in more than 20 different languages.

The Archdiocese of Washington’s Spanish Catholic Center opened its doors in 1967 in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood in Washington. According to information provided by Catholic Charities, the multicultural staff of the Spanish Catholic Center speak more than eight different languages as they serve immigrants from around the world. Last year, the center’s medical and dental clinics served 7,036 patients, and it helped more than 2,000 job seekers find stable employment with local businesses.

A Mass at noon on Oct. 6 at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Washington will mark the Spanish Catholic Center’s 50th anniversary, with a related celebration there the following day at 6:30 p.m.

Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Washington offer several innovative programs serving immigrant youth, including the Corporate Work Study Program at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, the global learning program at St. Francis International School in Silver Spring, and the bilingual English and Spanish curriculum at Sacred Heart School in Washington.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic agencies promoting the Share the Journey campaign in support of migrants and refugees have developed a toolkit in English and Spanish with suggested prayers and activities for parishes and schools and for individual Catholics and families, with a related social media campaign, #sharejourney. For information, go to www.sharejourney.org.