After announcement that DACA program is ending, young immigrants face fear of deportation
Sept. 19, 2017
Yves Gomes came to the United States from India when he was just 14 months old. His parents, Robin and Cecilia, applied for asylum to be able to practice their religion, and the family initially lived with Gomes’s great aunt and uncle, Dominica and Henry Gomes, and his two cousins, Harold and Henrietta.
“This has been our only home,” said Gomes.
He grew up attending Maryland public schools and St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, and his younger brother, Aaron, was born here as a U.S. citizen. Now a 25-year-old graduate student, Gomes is among the 800,000 young people who were brought to the United States as minors and will soon be at risk of losing work permits and being deported.
On Sept. 5, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is being rescinded. Through this program, undocumented youth who met certain qualifications could apply to the government program to remain in the country for two years, subject to renewal.
DACA recipients whose permits would expire before March 6 can renew them for two more years, provided that they complete the $450 application by Oct. 5. But for those whose permits are set to expire on March 6 or later, they have to wait and see if Congress will sign something more permanent into law within the next six months. If not, they can remain in the country until their permits expire, but then will need to leave.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has called this decision ”reprehensible,” acknowledging that it causes “unnecessary fear for DACA youth and their families.”
This fear is something that Gomes is already acquainted with. His family appealed for 12 years to get asylum, and during that time they were granted work permits. Gomes’s father worked as a banquet waiter at the Washington Hilton and Crown Plaza, and his mother was a computer science professor at Northern Virginia Community College. But the family was ultimately denied asylum in 2006, and they became undocumented for the first time.
Afterward, the family was living paycheck to paycheck, as Gomes’ father worked at a local Indian restaurant, and his mother spent her time volunteering at St. Camillus and at charitable programs like Meals on Wheels. After being pulled over for a blown taillight in 2008, Gomes’s father was tracked by immigration enforcement, and a week later, when Gomes was 15, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) came to raid their home.
“I remember everything,” Gomes said about that morning. It was 6:30 a.m. when the family awakened to the sound of their neighbor’s dog barking, and saw a shadow walking behind their house. Gomes remembers hearing his parents panicking and then a knock on the door.
“We had only heard about it,” said Gomes. “We never thought that would be a reality.”
When his dad opened the door, the agents came in and started interrogating them, asking who lived in which room of the house, and asked them to present their papers. When his dad did, they told them what they already knew: the papers were no longer good.
“That means you have to come with us,” they told him. And that was the last time Gomes saw his dad in person.
His dad was detained for six months before being deported, and his mom was given a year extension to care for Aaron, but was placed on house arrest with a bracelet that she was required to wear. Gomes remembers going in to get the bracelet, when the officers accidentally gave them papers they weren’t supposed to see that labeled his mother as “high risk.”
“In that time, we turned to faith a lot,” said Gomes, who remembers his mother praying every night and attending Eucharistic Adoration every day. “That was really important to us.”
His whole family is Catholic, and his cousin, Henrietta Gomes, is now a Sister of Life who took the name Sister Grace Dominic.
“[The Sisters of Life] know Yves and Aaron and they always pray for them. They are well aware of their case,” said Harold Gomes, Sister Grace Dominic’s brother. “Their charism very much extends through all aspects of human life, not just abortion. Abortion of course is a mean evil that threatens life, but there are other things that affect human dignity, such as the situation that Yves is in. He should be allowed to stay here, because it is the only country he has ever known. He didn’t know India. It is a foreign land to him.”
Gomes started his senior year of high school without either of his parents, and was told he was going to be deported as soon as he graduated. After hearing the story of how his cousin, Sister Grace Dominic, had prayed to St. Therese of Lisieux for roses as a sign of God’s will, he decided to do the same.
“I didn’t know what to do,” while he was under deportation proceedings, Gomes said. “I ultimately left it in God’s hands. I prayed for the exact same sign Henrietta had prayed for. I asked God, ‘If you want me to be here, send me a bouquet of roses, and if you want me to leave, give me a cut piece of rope.’”
About two weeks before his scheduled deportation date, he was at a prayer service with his family. Afterward, a woman walked up to his aunt with a bouquet of roses.
“At that moment, my family didn’t know what was going on, but in that moment I knew in my heart that I was going to be okay,” Gomes said. “I had my prayers answered.”
With the support of his community and an attorney named Cynthia Katz-Groomes, his deferred action was renewed. Gomes graduated from the University of Maryland in College Park and received a degree in biochemistry. Once President Barack Obama established DACA, he was able to once again renew his deferred action under that program. He is currently in graduate school, pursuing a pharmacy degree at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and works at a pharmacy down the street from his house.
“Pharmacists are many times the most accessible healthcare professional for people who do not have access to health care, whether it be due to poverty or legal exclusion,” said Gomes, noting that undocumented people do not qualify for the Affordable Care Act. “With health care being such a maze, I want to make it more accessible for all of my patients.”
His deferred action will expire in 2019, soon after he is supposed to graduate from pharmacy school. Now he and other young people in similar circumstances no longer know what their future will hold.
While Gomes called this situation “nerve wracking,” he said his time and energy right now is going into helping his community, in particular by fundraising for people qualified to renew their deferred action by Oct. 5 and by preparing the community for immigration raids like the one that his family experienced.
“Through meeting other undocumented folks over the years, I get to know them on a genuine level,” said Gomes. “[I get] to hear their stories, to hear their struggle, to hear their perseverance and faith. Even now as deferred action is being taken away from us, it is heartbreaking, but it is also beautiful (to hear) undocumented youth saying, ‘we have to change our narrative.’”
Gomes said while these youth want their own protection, “we want to save our community as well.” And when the narrative is that they were brought here “by no fault of our own,” Gomes said, “It basically places the blame on our very families…on the rest of our communities.”
“The majority of families emigrate because they want to save their families,” said Gomes. “…Our parents are so selfless, they say, ‘No, we want our youth to be saved first; we will work our 12 hour shifts to do so.’”
Now, “I am here, but my parents are not here,” Gomes noted. So in addition to supporting those affected by DACA, “we are mindful that it is not just the youth who are at stake,” he said.
Gomes still talks to his parents over Skype, and he said although they fear for him, they support the work he is doing to help his community.
During a recent interview, Pope Francis acknowledged the familial impact of President Donald Trump’s decision to end DACA, saying, “If [President Trump] is a good pro-lifer, he understands that the family is the cradle of life and its unity must be defended.”
“It was really great to hear the USCCB and our pope come out to reiterate what it is for us to be pro-life,” said Gomes, who added that he would love to see all churches “come out and support undocumented communities.”
“If I don’t have action, I don’t save my neighbor in this situation, I think my faith has no meaning,” said his aunt, Dominica Gomes. “Faith has to be nourished with good work.”
Washington Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville, an immigrant from Colombia, said while he remembers and is proud of his Colombian roots, what DACA recipients face is as if someone told him that he had to move to China, a country he has never known. Nevertheless, he is united with them through “the sense of belonging to a society” that opens its doors to them and where they are able to contribute, he said.
“More than to take, the immigrant comes to give,” he continued. “And that is why we are so grateful to the country. Because it is not only by receiving, but by giving yourself, by giving your work and your dreams…that you build up yourself. The more you give, the more you receive.”
Bishop Dorsonville said he hopes to help put faces to the DACA debate, because within the immigrant community “the story is so close to our own experience that we recognize it in a very easy way,” he said. “However there are many people, even those who sit in our pews, that don’t know it. They get only the nasty news from (some commentaries on) the radio or television that these kinds of immigrants are dangerous; they come to destroy and do a bad job.”
Bishop Dorsonville is having ongoing meetings with undocumented youth, including Gomes, who share their stories and brainstorm ways to do so more broadly. They have discussed going out into parishes and sharing their stories there, and a few have started to do that.
For those who want to help these youth, Bishop Dorsonville suggests both advocacy and prayer.
“We are in a country where congressmen need to hear from their people,” he said, encouraging people to write letters or make a phone call to urge them to find a solution to the fear that so many young people are now facing.
Many people are now urging Congress to pass the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which was first introduced in 2001. The bill would establish in law, rather than by executive order, similar provisions that DACA had for undocumented youth, as well as a pathway to legal status. Several versions of the bill have been proposed, but they have failed to pass for 16 years.
“What we really need is to move the DACA issue from the corner, located with the immigrant community, to the center of the room where there is a society that can recognize the value of the human person’s dignity and to embrace it as belief, as we recognize the face of Jesus Christ in their faces,” said Bishop Dorsonville.
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