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Story of Father Rey Pineda Latest Reminder of the Fact that America Benefits from DACA

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Senator Durbin Floor Speech Tells Story of Catholic Priest With DACA, Consequences of Ending Policy

Washington, DC – One of the first battles of Donald Trump’s presidency will be over the futures and livelihoods of the 750,000 DREAMers with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. While Trump has pledged to end DACA on day one of his presidency, this would be a colossal mistake. A recent economic analysis from the Center for American Progress, for example, found that ending DACA would “wipe away at least $433.4 billion from the U.S. GDP cumulatively over 10 years.”

But the strongest arguments against ending DACA are heard in the personal stories of DACA recipients. As the Washington Post recently editorialized, taking away DREAMers’ protections from deportation and their work permits would serve no purpose other than to restrict the livelihoods, futures and contributions of young people who are “as culturally American as their U.S.-born neighbors.” In recent Senate floor speeches, longtime Dreamer and immigrant champion Senator Dick Durbin has been raising the profile of individual Dreamers’ stories and making it clear that taking away their work permits and safety from deportation would hurt not just Dreamers themselves, but the rest of America.

Yesterday, Durbin profiled Father Rey Pineda, a DACA recipient and Catholic priest at the Cathedral of Christ our King in Atlanta, GA, who has been in the United States since the age of two and whose future as a priest depends on DACA.

Hearing Father Pineda’s story begs the question: in what possible way would America benefit from Father Pineda no longer being able to serve his parish and his community? How is America bettered by ending DACA and restricting the futures and opportunities of Father Pineda and hundreds of thousands of other DACA recipients?

Below are excerpts from Senator Durbin’s powerful speech about Father Rey Pineda (watch in full online here):

“In 1990, when Rey was two years old, his family came to the United States from Mexico. Ray grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, he worked hard and was an honor roll student in high school, and became the first member of his family to attend college. In 2010 he graduated with a major in philosophy from Southern Campus in Georgia. He is a devout Catholic. He decided to attend seminary in my home state of Illinois. He felt that God was calling him to be a priest, but his spiritual path was blocked. He is undocumented. He is a Dreamer. Then, in 2012, everything changed. President Obama signed the executive order establishing DACA. In March of 2013, Rey was approved. He went to the background check, did everything he was asked to do. He received his DACA status and he knew that at least for two years he would not be subject to deportation. That allowed him to become a deacon in the Catholic church two months later in May 2013. In 2014, he entered the priesthood after he graduated magna cum laude from the seminary in Illinois. He has a Masters in divinity. Today he is a priest.”

Senator Durbin then quoted Father Pineda’s own words about the importance of DACA:

“‘Like many Dreamers, the United States is only — really the only country i know. DACA was an answer to prayer. Without DACA, i would not have been able to serve as a priest in my community. I believe my faith in god has brought me to this point in my life, but my faith in America’s promise has pushed me to keep fighting for peace, justice and opportunity in this great country i proudly call home.’”

Senator Durbin, and Father Pineda, then explained what’s at stake – both for the Dreamers and for America:

“If DACA is eliminated, and that threat has been made, Father Rey Pineda will lose his legal status and be subject to deportation, being sent back to a country that he hasn’t lived in since he was 2 years old. That would be a tragedy for Father Rey and his congregation and the hundreds of people who count on him as their priest. Consider this — there’s a chronic shortage of catholic priests in America. Since 1975, the number of priests has declined by 33%. The number of American Catholics has grown by 43%. Hundreds of parishes have been forced to close or consolidate … At a time when the United States is actively importing ministers and priests from foreign countries, why do we want to deport Father Rey Pineda? It makes no sense. Listen to what Father Rey told me about his role as a priest and also as an undocumented immigrant:

‘I believe my entire journey has prepared me to be compassionate with the sufferings of the many people i encounter. I look at my ministry as a calling, to build bridges between people from all walks of life. Diversity sometimes brings challenges between people. I want to help to heal those differences.’

After the most divisive election in recent memory, I believe if a Father Ray Pineda and other Dreamers just like him have an important role to play in healing the differences that divide America. I am hoping that President-elect Trump will see this and will continue the DACA program, but let me be clear – if there is an attempt to shut down DACA, I will do everything in my power as a United States Senator to protect the Dreamers who have stepped forward and contributed their talents to our great country.

…Now is the time for America, this nation of immigrants to heal the wounds that guided us — divided us during this election. Let’s start with the Dreamers. Let’s start with DACA. Let’s start with the young people that will make America better and stronger in years to come. They are the best in this country. Let’s make them the best of America’s future.”

Follow Frank Sharry and America’s Voice Education Fund on Twitter: @FrankSharry and @AmericasVoice

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