‘Dreamer’ pleased by support from his parish, friends

As a "Dreamer," Eric Reyes doesn't feel as if he's alone because of the support he's received. It comes from groups ranging from young teens to older adults, he said, and is "a great feeling that people don't despise me or don't feel threatened by us. They support the cause, for us being here and fighting for legalization and our right to be here."

"Dreamers" were brought to the United States as children without documentation and were afforded temporary protection under the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program, which now is facing elimination unless Congress acts.

Reyes' parish, Our Lady of Guadalupe in Ferguson, where he volunteers with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program, has been a big supporter, providing references for his applications regarding his residency status, for example. "It just shows it's not just my family backing me up, it's also a pastor" or a staff member his parish, he said.

Reyes sometimes heard negative comments from peers who assume he has no legal status. But generally when he gets to know people such as his co-workers and tells them his situation, "they have my back," he said. "They're all willing to put in a good word for me."

The 23-year-old has seen the future of "Dreamers" go up and down, recalling the rhetoric of the last presidential election and the current risks of deportation. "We're already in the system, and they know where we live and work," Reyes said. "We gave them all our info to apply for this, and when the current administration came in it was a big blow to us. We didn't know what would happen the next day or next week."

He's active in promoting the cause of "Dreamers," and he takes part in a program to explain his situation to other Catholics. "It felt good that after my presentation they came up, gave me a hug, shook my hand and told me it opened their eyes to what's really happening as opposed to what they see on social media and what they read. It was great feeling to help change people's mindset or see a different picture," he said.

Reyes applied for the DACA program at age 17, and it enabled him to work and get a driver's license. He renewed it in October and is cleared to remain in the U.S. for two years. But the "roller coaster," he said, led him to wonder if this would be the last year with his wife, the last birthday with his son in the United States or his last Christmas.

Reyes said he's an example of "Dreamers" who proved that they are an asset to what they believe is their home country. He's in favor of a merit-based system of obtaining permanent status. He graduated from high school with a 3.0 grade point average, began in an entry-level job and worked up to a more responsible position in sales and has contributed to the community.

He's witnessed opposition to immigrants and refugees, and said it stems from their lack of knowledge about migrants and the poverty and violence that causes them to flee.

Brought to the United States at age 3 from Mexico, he grew up in St. Ann. He learned about his undocumented status when he found out he couldn't do some of the things his friends and classmates could do such as take a trip outside the U.S. or vote.

He and his wife, Rosa, have a 4-year-old son who's starting to play soccer and T-ball. Their home has several signs of their Catholic faith, from a Blessed Mary statue outside adorned with lights to a Last Supper painting inside. Family photos adorn one of the walls. Reyes works as a telecommunications broker and is considering returning to college in the computer field once his status is approved. He now is in a process for residency through his wife's status as a U.S. citizen. His application has been accepted, and he's fulfilling the last steps to become a U.S. resident. He pays all the taxes a U.S. citizen pays.

His chances are good for staying here, but there's a small chance his application could be denied.

"This is the only home I've known," Reyes said. 

Providing a pathway to citizenship

Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faith leaders in St. Louis called on Congress to provide a pathway to citizenship for the immigrants brought to the United States as children, also known as "Dreamers."

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program, protects the "Dreamers" from deportation and allowed them to have a work permit and other documents as long as they meet certain criteria. The name "Dreamers" comes from the DREAM Act — the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act. The legislative proposal would allow qualifying youth conditional residency and eventually permanent residency, but it has been repeatedly defeated in Congress.

According to the St. Louis Interfaith Committee on Latin America (IFCLA), more than 3,000 DACA recipients live in Missouri. Their future is uncertain after the Trump administration announced its intention to end the program in September 2017, calling on Congress to act.

Father Carl Scheble, pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in south St. Louis, represented the Archdiocese of St. Louis at the press conference Feb. 26. Creating a path to citizenship will safeguard the unity of their families, Father Scheble said.

"As Catholics and faithful citizens," he said, "we express our oneness with the 'Dreamers' and their families. On our faith principles of love for our nation, we maintain the importance of family life. To strengthen families is to strengthen our communities, which in turn will strengthen our nation."

He conveyed prayers, love and support to the 'Dreamers' and their families, acknowledging their contributions "to the greatness of our nation."

He also offered prayers for President Donald Trump and Congress in their collaboration and deliberations "to serve this common good."

Gavriela Geller, the Jewish Community Relations Council's senior policy associate, said the young people's futures are being used as bargaining chips in legislative battles on immigration reform. She called for the preservation of immigration laws that make family reunification possible.

Sarah John, executive director of the IFCLA, said better laws can be passed that are grounded in love, dignity, compassion and welcome. She called for prayer and speaking out to elected representatives.

On March 2, the Archdiocese of St. Louis and St. Francis Community Services' Catholic Legal Assistance Ministry joined a statewide mobilization to call on Congress to protect immigrant youth from deportation.

Communities of women and men religious in St. Louis and other groups have issued statements on behalf of immigration reform. The presidents of St. Louis University and Fontbonne University signed a letter to Congress along with other college and university leaders urging passage of a long-term legislative fix that protects "Dreamers." More than 800 business and industry leaders sent a similar letter.

Fontbonne issued a separate statement asking its community members to educate themselves about the issue and how Christians ought to respond. 

Contact your legislators about immigration issues and the DREAM Act.
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