By Malie Hudson
Five days after President Donald Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish (OLPH) in Riverside began offering workshops for DACA recipients in the Diocese to assist them with the many questions and concerns they had regarding their immigration status and renewal process.
“It’s important for them to understand that there is less than a month to file for renewals,” said Emilio Amaya on September 10. He is the executive director of San Bernardino Community Service Center, Inc., an organization that advocates for immigrant rights. “We are here to help with questions and concerns regarding the recent changes to the DACA program.”
OLPH, Riverside was one of at least eight parishes in the Diocese that provided a forum for those looking for information, guidance and pastoral support in the aftermath of President Trump’s decision, announced Sept. 5. On September 18, St. Louis Parish in Cathedral City hosted an information workshop for DACA participants. On Sept. 22 the parish offered a day of fasting and prayer for immigration reform that would allow DACA participants to stay in the country legally.
“The community of St. Louis understands that another way in which we can express our support for what is right and just is to make our voices heard,” said Father Luis Guido, pastor, who also posted a video message on Facebook asking for prayers for DACA participants.
DACA is a program created by former President Barack Obama by executive order in 2012. It offered certain eligible immigrants, sometimes called Dreamers, who came to the U.S. illegally as minors to be protected from immediate deportation. The program allowed recipients to request for “consideration of deferred action” for a period of two years, subject to renewal.
As many as 60,000 of the 800,000 people participating in DACA nationally are in the Inland Empire region of the Diocese.
Bishop Gerald Barnes issued a statement on the day President Trump’s decision was announced calling on the faithful to pray for the Dreamers.
“…the Church is with you and stands ready to accompany you in this time of fear and uncertainty,” Bishop Barnes statement reads. The Diocesan Offices of Young Catholics and Justice for Immigrants Campaign held an evening of prayer and reflection with local DACA participants on September 22 at the Diocesan Pastoral Center.
President Trump’s rescinding of the program included a six-month delay for current recipients. It also meant that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will no longer accept new applications. However, initial applications filed by September 5 and renewal applications filed before October 5 were to be processed as normal. In addition, a participant in the program whose benefits expire between September 5, 2017 and March 5, 2018, was allowed to file for renewal before October 5. Renewal applications filed after October 5 were to be rejected.
Maria Gonzalez, a parishioner of St. Edward Church in Corona, heard about the DACA workshop being offered at OLPH, Riverside on September 10 from her sister-in-law, an OLPH parishioner.
“[She] called me and said that they will have people here that can help you with your case,” said Gonzalez. So she brought her husband, Javier Estrada, and two- year-old son along with her to listen and ask questions during a free private consultation offered at the end of the session.
“They helped me a lot because I had a lot of questions on the changes since I have to renew my application,” she said. Her work permit expires October 28.
Before the workshop began, the parish celebrated their regular 2 p.m. Spanish Mass, which included a testimonial by Dalila Valdez, a Dreamer and recipient of the program. She translated her speech in English for the BYTE.
“I shared that I came to this country when I was seven. My parents came here with the idea that it would provide me with better opportunities and education than our home in Mexico. I talked about how it was growing up here and not realizing I was any different from anyone else,” Valdez explained.
“I had dreams and goals of going to college and did that by getting good grades. And then getting into high school, I realized that because of my status there are things I couldn’t do, like getting a driver’s license, or applying to get a work permit. I couldn’t apply for certain classes I wanted to do,” she said. “So what I did share in church is that it started affecting my possibilities for school because it also determined where I would be able to go and would I be able to afford it. Or if I graduated, would I be able to work with my degree. I was very lucky because in the year I started college, it was also the year that Obama created DACA.”
She got her first job doing student work at University of California, Riverside, where she studied Plant Biology and eventually earned her Bachelor’s Degree.
“I wanted to do something bigger and better because my whole idea has always been to help those that need help. So I focused on survivors of sexual assault and I began volunteering for the Riverside Area Rape Crisis Center,” she said. “It was that volunteer position that led me to do a lot of things for my community because I was helping people during their most vulnerable time, right after a sexual assault, and guiding them through the process and advocating for them at the hospital. They liked the work I did and I was promoted quickly.”
This year, Valdez says she will graduate with a Master’s Degree in Public Policy and wants to continue the work she has been doing with victims of sexual assault and also extend to helping immigrants through policy work at the state level.
“My work permit doesn’t expire for another year so I have this year to keep working,” she said.
Valdez and Gonzalez are among 800,000 others across the country who are beneficiaries of the program and stand to lose their jobs. As DACA phases out, a solution to protect the fate of Dreamers lies in the hands of Congress to pass legislation on immigration reform by the six-month deadline.
“We continue to pray that Congress will certainly be compassionate to the fact that it wasn’t any of the children’s fault. They were not asked when they were children whether they wanted to come to the U.S.,” said Father Miguel Ceja, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Riverside.
“I know it’s complicated but the Church has a responsibility to speak up in defense of this particular group and all immigrants. This is the only country they know. They consider themselves American. Many of them have fully integrated into our society. Many of them are totally bilingual and bicultural. Most of them are great assets and contribute to our country so the least we can do is to give them an opportunity to be a part of society.”
Father Ceja added, “I want them to know that they’re not alone, they have our prayers and they have our support. The doors of our church are open to them.”
Malie Hudson is a freelance writer based in Riverside.