Dozens of Catholics arrested as they ask Congress to help ‘Dreamers’

Dominican Sister of Peace Judy Morris, foreground, and others joined in a “Catholic Day of Action for Dreamers” protest to press Congress to protect “Dreamers” outside the U.S. Capitol Feb. 27 in Washington. Sister Morris and dozens of others were arrested in an act of civil disobedience. (CNS Photo by Bob Roller)

Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Dozens of Catholics, including Dominican Sister of Peace Judy Morris, were arrested near the U.S. Capitol Feb. 27 in the rotunda of a Senate building in Washington as they called on lawmakers to help young undocumented adults brought to the U.S. as minors obtain some sort of permanent legal status.

Some of them sang and prayed, and many of them said they had no option but to participate in the act of civil disobedience to speak out against the failure of Congress and the Trump administration to help the young adults.

“I feel like this is justice 101,” said Sister Morris prior to her arrest. “I’ve long been concerned about this. They’re vulnerable people. Too often immigrants have become scapegoats and often Dreamers are among them.”

Dreamers are young undocumented immigrants who would have been aided by the failed DREAM Act immigration reform. Some are now protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

In September, President Donald Trump announced his administration was ending the DACA program, giving lawmakers until March 5 to find a legislative solution to protect the young adults benefiting from DACA.

Two federal judges blocked efforts to end the program, ruling the government must continue to accept renewal applications for DACA. In turn, the administration asked the Supreme Court to hear and rule on one of those decisions, from a judge in California, in an effort to bypass the process of an appeal going through the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in San Francisco.

On Feb. 26, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear and rule on whether the administration has the right to shut down DACA. The case will now be heard on appeal by the 9th Circuit.

In the Senate building’s rotunda Feb. 27, Sister Morris and others who risked arrest, received a blessing from Bishop John Stowe
of Lexington, Ky.

Bishop Stowe extended his hands in the air and said: “We stand with the Dreamers, we are one with the Dreamers. And now I ask God’s blessing upon those who are acting in civil disobedience, part of a long-standing tradition of not supporting unjust laws.”

U.S. Capitol Police began warning them repeatedly to stop or be arrested. Supporters, including the bishop, departed then, while about 40 stayed behind and began praying the last decade of the Sorrowful Mysteries.

They had prayed the first four mysteries on their walk into the Senate building after holding a press conference and participating in Mass celebrated by Bishop Stowe.

Among those arrested were 25 religious. They were placed in plastic handcuffs and led away, some in prayer, some singing. They were charged with disorderly conduct, crowding, incommoding and obstruction. By 4 p.m. (local time), they had all been released.

Just as those who were arrested at the Capitol were stepping out of their comfort zones, so, too, the young adults they were advocating for are facing an even greater discomfort, Bishop Stowe said, as they face their greatest moment of uncertainty.

During the press conference before the occupation of the rotunda, several speakers addressed the plight of Dreamers.

Daniel Neri, a Catholic from Indiana, who would benefit from legislation to help the 1.8 million estimated young adults in the country facing an uncertain future, said, he wanted people to know that “we are not criminals, we are not rapists, we are good people.”

Dreamers have to go through extensive background checks, he said, and they wouldn’t pass those checks if they were troublemakers.

Jesuit Father Thomas Reese said he was representing Jesuits from the West Coast and other Jesuits, who know exactly who “Dreamers” are.

“They are our students, sitting in our classrooms, they are our parishioners, kneeling in our churches,” he said. “They are our friends, they are our colleagues who have invited us into their homes.”

Pointing to the U.S. Capitol building, where lawmakers gather, he said, “it is time for the people who work in that building to realize that this is a moral issue. It is a justice issue, and the political gamesmanship must stop.”

Sister of Mercy JoAnn Persch said she was there, too, to support Dreamers. She took part in what was billed a “Catholic Day of Action With Dreamers,” organized by the PICO National Network, a faith-based community organization based in California, largely out of frustration, she said.

“My prayer, my work for comprehensive immigration reform has had no impact on this administration,” she said. “I stand with Dreamers now at this moment of truth, which to me is a moral issue. When these traditional strategies we have used have no impact, we have to move to action that could involve taking a risk to disrupt this unjust system in some way.”

And if that meant being arrested, she was willing to do so, she said.

“As a woman of faith, I am called to be wise … courageous, a prophetic voice,” she said. “That is a challenge to every person who says they are a Catholic, a Christian, a person of faith. And this applies to Paul Ryan as well as all those in Congress.”

House Speaker Ryan, R-Wisconsin, is Catholic and many said they took issue with what they see as his lack of action on several issues involving immigrants. At various moments, including one near the U.S. Capitol, the crowd chanted, “Paul, Paul, why do you persecute me?” referring to the speaker.

Sister Morris echoed calls of the U.S. bishops for comprehensive immigration reform, which, she said, “needs to unite families and it needs to lead to a path to citizenship.

“This is pro-life,” she added. If people seriously read Scripture, we are called to welcome the stranger.”

In an interview after her return to Louisville, Sister Morris said her arrest “was well worth it.”

“The police were very respectful. They just did their job,” she added, noting that she and the others paid fines of $50. 

She hopes that the ordeal makes a difference for Dreamers.

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