Clergy urge action on ‘Dreamers’

Rigo, an 18 year old from Mexico, spoke during a press conference Monday, Feb. 27 at Central Reform Congregation to advocate for Dreamers, the name often used to described undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as children.  Photo: Eric Berger

By Eric Berger, Staff Writer

Rigo is an 18 year old from Mexico who entered the country illegally with his mother as a small child. Shortly before an event Monday at Central Reform Congregation, he received a letter informing him that he could renew his application for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which would allow him to remain in the country, he told people gathered at the press conference.  

Still, Rigo, who did not want his last name used, said “It’s not enough. It only provides me with two years and then what? What do I do?”

The St. Louis Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America and Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis organized the press conference, which featured rabbis along with Christian and Muslim clergy, in advance of a March 5 deadline set by President Donald Trump for DACA protections to expire. This would mean the undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as children, often called “Dreamers,” could then be deported. On Monday however, the U.S. Supreme Court declined a request from the White House to immediately determine whether the Trump administration can shut down the program, meaning that the president will not be able to end the program on March 5 and people like Rigo can reapply.

Despite that positive development for undocumented immigrants seeking to achieve permanent residency and a path to citizenship, the religious leaders gathered at CRC still urged the federal government to take action to protect that population. 

“We pray to the source of all creation… grant wisdom courage and strength to the elected leaders of our great country, help them to open their eyes to the countless people around them standing up, demanding reforms…, help them open their hearts to the pain of so many whose futures are unclear,” Maharat Rori Picker Neiss, executive director of JCRC, said at the conference. Rabbis from Congregation Shaare Emeth and Kol Rinah also attended. 

Trump has said he would support a pathway to citizenship for the approximately 700,000 people enrolled in the DACA program. However, he and some Republican lawmakers have tied that support to measures such as $25 billion in funding for a border wall and a reduction in a program that allows U.S. citizens to sponsor family members to receive green cards and an end to a lottery that allows people from countries that are under-represented in the United States to receive visas. Democrats and organizations that advocate for immigrant communities have rejected those proposals.  

In addition to helping Dreamers, “we simultaneously affirm that America is and always will be a nation of immigrants, so the futures of the Dreamers will not be won on the backs of their parents, of their families or the fundamental way in which we welcome people to this country,” said Gavriella Geller, senior policy associate for JCRC.  

Rigo, who graduated from St. John Vianney High School, a private Catholic institution, told the Jewish Light that after the 2016 presidential elections, in which Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton, “those people who I thought were friends, I realized who they truly were; they weren’t there for me…. Mainly it’s been a struggle” since then.

He said he is a freshman in college — he declined to name where — works as a mechanic and is involved with MODreamers, an organization that advocates for undocumented immigrants.

“I’ve been doing OK and am looking bright into the future and hoping for the best because I feel like we are surrounded by very good people and it’s their voices that make the difference,” said Rigo, whose parents, brother and aunt and uncle live in St. Louis. 

Sara John, program director for the Inter-Faith Committee, urged attendees to contact lawmakers and participate in a MODreamers rally at 5:30 p.m. Friday, March 2 in the Delmar Loop.