The “Dreamers” have escaped deportation for the time being. However, they are still in legal limbo until Congress decides to legalize them by some law. That seems to be what President Donald Trump wants, provided he can leverage them to get funding to build the wall across our southern border that he promised his voter base when running for election. These kinds of issues we have become used to in the first year of the Trump presidency. But never, except perhaps on the abortion issue, has a political decision been so much also a moral one.

The fate of the Dreamers is not a question of how to pay off our national debt, raise taxes or cut taxes. Nor is it a strategy on how to make our schools safe, ban guns or arm teachers. Nor is it a plan to make America great again by increasing jobs through higher tariffs and less federal regulation as opposed to free trade and protection of the environment. Such questions divide Americans into Republicans and Democrats. Responses to them don’t make us good people or bad people, moral or immoral. They simply give us the opportunity, through our elected officials, to create a strong nation, one that provides us equal opportunity, security and happiness.

The Dreamers case is different. They were children brought here by their parents. They have grown up speaking English, educated in our schools, some serving in our military, paying taxes, becoming teachers and construction workers, health care personnel and private business men and women. Their problem is really the problem of their parents, many of whom were welcomed as seasonal agricultural workers without whom we could not have harvested our crops. They did other types of labor too, which most Americans did not want to do, such as working in chicken processing plants. For years our government, whether Republican or Democrat, simply looked the other way while the parents worked undocumented, but not untaxed, in our fields, factories and homes. It would not have been politically wise in those years to make an issue of their situation.

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There was another reason also why many came into our country without proper documentation. In the 1970s and 80s there was civil war and tremendous civil strife and persecution in Central America. It was the time of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and of General Noriega, the dictator ousted by the U.S. in Panama.

I was friendly with a family in Brownsville, Texas. The wife was head of the Red Cross and often in refugee camps set up on the American side of the border. I went with her and listened to stories of persons who had truly fled with their children for their lives. What became of them, I am not sure, but Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush all allowed Central American refugees to stay in the U.S., just as President John Kennedy had before them with Cubans. Politicians had a conscience in those days.

If the Dreamers lose the protection they have received under DACA (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program) put in place under the Obama administration, 780,000 Dreamers will be arrested and deported. That would be a travesty of justice understood as fairness, not merely legality. As Father Thomas Reese SJ wrote in the Feb. 26 edition of the National Catholic Reporter, “To say that they (Dreamers) broke the law and should be punished would be like prosecuting a baby in a stroller when its mother shoplifts diapers at Walmart.”

When law does not produce fairness and respect for our common humanity, it can become an instrument of cruelty. While in my car listening to public radio, I heard a story of a Congolese woman who with her young child fled to Mexico to avoid violence in her country. Her hope was to cross the border into the U.S. and beg for asylum. She got across and turned herself into immigration authorities. The immigration officers separated her from her child, sending the child to child-care people in Chicago. The mother, who was imprisoned at the border, could hear her child screaming as they took her away. The report continued, saying that this is an increasingly used tactic to discourage foreigners from bringing their children across the border. Enforcement of laws may need to be tightened, but cruelty to children should never be employed as a threat.

Natural law, or a common sense of fairness and decency shared by all human beings, is the basis of valid laws according to Catholic teaching. Of course, not everyone agrees on the details and application of specific written laws. Christians often look to Scripture for enlightenment and the reminder that our laws should treat our neighbors, especially our poor, needy and suffering neighbors, as we would want to be treated. When the neighbor is the homeless refugee fleeing natural disaster, war, or the violence of criminal drug lords, Scripture is quite specific and direct. The United Church of Christ did a survey of the Bible references in the Old Testament and the New Testament and found 54 references to immigrants and refugees. Here are just a few:

Genesis 12:10 The call of Abram: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” And he becomes a stranger and an alien in the land of Canaan (Gen 23).

Exodus 22:21 Moses leads the Jews out of Egypt and slavery and gives them God’s law: “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien; for you were aliens in the lands of Egypt.”

Deuteronomy 10:18-19 “For the Lord your God loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Jeremiah 7:5-7 “If you do not oppress the alien … then I will dwell with you in this place.”

Jeremiah 22:3-5 “Do no wrong or violence to the alien.”

Matthew 2:13-15 “Jesus and parents flee Herod’s search to kill the child.”

Matthew 25:31-46 “… I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (our final judgment)

Romans 12:13 “Mark of the true Christian: … Extend hospitality to strangers …”

1 John 3:18 “… Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”

On Feb. 27 we were asked through e-mails to contact our national legislators to urge them to pass a law guaranteeing Dreamers a place in our country. I called Senator Cassidy. A very pleasant young man said that he would pass on my message to the Senator. I hope that Sen. Cassidy remembers the passages from St. Matthew, St. Paul and St. John.

Father Carville is a retired priest in the Diocese of Baton Rouge and writes on current topics for The Catholic Commentator. He can be reached at johnnycarville@gmail.com.