Jesuit Father Tom Reese stands with a group of young DACA recipients from California during a "Catholic Day of Action for Dreamers" protest outside the U.S. Capitol Feb. 27 in Washington. (CS photos by Jaclyn Lippelmann)
Jesuit Father Tom Reese stands with a group of young DACA recipients from California during a "Catholic Day of Action for Dreamers" protest outside the U.S. Capitol Feb. 27 in Washington. (CS photos by Jaclyn Lippelmann)

Dozens of Catholics were arrested on Feb. 27 for an act of civil disobedience inside of the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington. The participants were praying and calling upon legislators to pass legislation to protect young immigrants from deportation as a part of the “Catholic Action Day with Dreamers,” organized by PICO National Network, a national network of faith-based community organizations.

This occurred the day after thousands of phone calls from around the country streamed into Washington as a part of National Catholic Call-In Day, when the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops encouraged Catholics to call their representatives and ask for legislation to protect Dreamers.

“Today we put our feet to the pavement,” said Sister of Charity Tracy Kemme, during a press conference preceding the act of civil disobedience.

The participants in the event included religious sisters and priests from all across the country, as well as Dreamers and their lay supporters. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, a Catholic who was one of the senators to originally introduce the Dream Act in 2001, also briefly joined the prayer service.

Sister Kemme said the group was gathered together “as Catholics, in the name of Jesus…to stand as our Church teaches us with Dreamers.”

She and other speakers specifically called upon House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, who is Catholic, to produce legislation to protect young immigrants who were brought to this country as minors and who have been protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). In September, President Trump announced that the program would end on March 5, and called upon Congress to find a legislative solution to protect the nearly 700,000 young immigrants who would be at risk of deportation.

With less than a week left before the program was set to end, Congress has still not reached an agreement about immigration reform. Yesterday, on Feb. 26, the Supreme Court announced that it declined to review a lower court’s injunction that has blocked President Trump from terminating the DACA program. This action grants a temporary reprieve to Dreamers, but advocates for Dreamers caution that the young immigrants’ lives still remain in limbo until Congress finds a permanent solution.

"Monday's Supreme Court decision does not reduce the urgency of finding an immediate legislative solution for Dreamers, people who were brought to the United States as children and have known only our country as their home,” said Austin Bishop Joe S. Vásquez, the chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, in a statement. “The anxiety and uncertainty that Dreamers and their families face remain unabated….My brother bishops and I continue to call upon Congress to work towards a bipartisan and humane solution as soon as possible."

Lexington Bishop John Stowe, a member of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual, said as they could see the clock ticking, the people there needed to “change hearts and change minds.”

“Our Dreamers have hopes and expectations because we taught them that in this country,” he said.

Through the Catholic faith, Bishop Stowe said, “we know human dignity is not tied to citizenship or residency; we are born with it.”

Sister JoAnn Persch, a Sister of Mercy of the Americas from Chicago, thanked Senator Durbin because he has “fought tirelessly for Dreamers.” She noted that she has served Dreamers during her ministry to immigrants, and she feels that they are “being used as pawns on a chess board…without consideration for what a gift they are for our country.”

Daniel Neri, a Dreamer living in Indianapolis, recalled bring brought to the United States at age 10 and “crying because I didn’t want to leave my country.”

“Now I am crying because I don’t want to leave this country,” he said.

Neri is Catholic, and looking out on the crowd of hundreds of Catholic supporters, he recalled that his faith teaches him, “We are all one body.”

“This is what one body looks like…different people here for one common cause,” he said.

Dominican Sister Elise Garcia told the group that she has never before been arrested, but that day she would be joining with a group of about two dozen other Catholic sisters to “risk arrest as an act of solidarity with Daniel and other Dreamers.”

Jesuit Father Tom Reese – a senior analyst for Religion News Service – also joined Sister Garcia in risking arrest in support of Dreamers, who he said “are our students sitting in our classrooms…our parishioners kneeling in our churches…our friends and colleagues who have invited us into their homes.”

After praying the rosary on the Capitol grounds, a portion of the group that included Sister Garcia and Father Reese went into the Russell Senate Office Building and continued praying, even after police warned them to stop or be arrested. Bishop Stowe blessed the people praying before dozens of people, including many men and women religious, were arrested and led out of the building.

To Congress, Sister Garcia said she wanted to send the message, “Arrest a nun, not a Dreamer.”