President Donald Trump’s immigration policies aren’t impressing Pope Francis.
Speaking with a group of reporters abroad the papal plane from a five-day visit back from Colombia, Francis said he hoped Trump would reconsider his decision to rescind the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative, which granted temporary deportation relief and work authorization for people brought to the country as children before 2007.
“One hopes that it is re-thought somewhat,” the pope said in response to a journalist inquiring about Trump’s announcement last week.
“I have heard the President of the United States speak,” the pope added. “He presents himself as a pro-life man. If he is a good pro-lifer, he should understand that the family is the cradle of life and you must defend its unity.”
Since former-President Barack Obama implemented the DACA initiative five years ago, nearly 800,000 people have been able to work and attend school in the U.S. without as much fear of deportation. But the Trump administration announced last week that it would no longer accept new DACA applicants as of September 5 — and urged current DACA recipients whose work authorization cards expire before March 5, 2018 to apply for an one-time, two-year renewal. That means that every DACA recipient’s lawful presence in this country would likely expire at different times throughout 2020, depending on when the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency approves the last DACA applicant.
Uprooting immigrants to a country they haven’t been in years could be traumatic in many ways. Roughly 66 percent of the current undocumented population in the United States has lived here for more than a decade, allowing them to build lives and contribute $11 billion in state and local tax contributions. About a quarter of the DACA recipient population are parents of young children who are U.S. citizens.
“In the end, young people feel like they have no hope. And who robs them of hope? Drugs, other addictions, suicides — youth suicides are very high — and this happens when they are torn from their roots,” Francis said.
Pope Francis hasn’t held back his strong feelings about Trump’s views on immigration. Last year, the pope derided then-presidential candidate Trump’s promise to fortify the border wall between the southern U.S. border and Mexico as “not Christian.” In a high-profile visit to Rio Grande river, Francis blessed undocumented immigrants and called for “no more deaths! No more exploitation!” In turn, Trump suggested the Mexican government got Francis to take a stand on immigration.
Francis has long been supportive of immigrant rights. Over the last several years, Francis made his first official trip outside of Rome to the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa to commemorate North African migrants who die trying to get to Europe; called on every Catholic parish in Europe to take in a Syrian refugee family; surprised 2,000 immigrant shelter residents near the Vatican with Christmas presents; and blessed U.S. children with parents in deportation proceedings.
The pope’s views on immigration — particularly when it comes to the subgroup of DACA recipients — strongly align with what the majority of Americans believe. A POLITICO/ Morning Consult poll published the day of DACA’s rescission, which surveyed 1,993 registered voters, found that 58 percent of American voters would like to see a pathway for DACA recipients to stay and become citizens after meeting certain requirements.
Since he began his campaign, Trump promised to be a pro-life president, earning him the support of many conservative evangelical Christians and pro-life groups.
But as the pope points out, it may be difficult for politicians to reconcile a pro-life stance with support for the deportation of people back to certain death in their home countries. During the surge of unaccompanied minors along the southern U.S. border in 2014, a Honduran morgue director received at least five children who had just been deported back the country from the United States. After they are deported, many people find themselves too American to blend in — so they are forced to go into hiding from the same dangerous conditions they had been trying to flee from, according to a 2014 Human Rights Watch report.