Rev. Michael J. Sheeran, S.J., president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU), urged members of Congress who have graduated from colleges and universities founded by the Jesuit order of Catholic priests to vote in favor of a bipartisan Dream Act and thus "save DACA students." DACA refers to the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals policy pronounced by Barack Obama, which meant that approximately 800,000 persons who arrived in the United States illegally as minors can apply for renewable work permits while seeking to become legal permanent residents.
Sheeran was joined in an October 24 press conference by fellow Catholics, Senate Assistant Minority Leader Richard Durbin (D-IL) and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). There were other members of the House and Senate on hand as well. A video of the news conference was produced by Senate Democrats. See below.
Sheeran said during the conference, “We know the Dreamers because they bless all of our campuses. You might miss them because they look and speak like any other American youngster. They are excellent, well-prepared students who held their mother’s hand or clung to their father’s neck as they came across the border. They’ve done nothing wrong. Instead, they serve others. They have been in high school ROTC, they volunteer as tutors to grade school kids, they volunteer in churches and nursing homes. They have so much to give our country, from their personal initiative to their economic impact.
“Ten percent of the members of the Senate and House are graduates of our 28 Jesuit colleges and universities; scores more are graduates of our high schools. To those alums in particular, I speak today through the cameras in the back of the room. We taught you about responsible citizenship. Republican or Democrat, that sense of civic responsibility is an underlying part of why you are in Congress today. You learned in school about the obligation to respect and protect the natural rights of other human beings, especially when they stand in need before you, and you have the power to help.
“You now have the power – in a way we ordinary citizens do not – the power to do justice for these students. Live up to what you’ve learned in our schools. And persuade your peers to do the same. Republican, Democrat, on this issue be “a man or woman for others.” Free these DACA students to be the Americans they already are in their hearts.”
Besides Sheeran, speakers included Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Kamala Harris (D-CA); House Democratic Caucus Chair, Representative Joe Crowley (D-NY) and Representatives Judy Chu (D-CA) and Adriano Espaillat (D-NY); University of California, Davis Chancellor Gary S. May; State University of New York System Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson; University at Albany-SUNY President Havidán Rodríguez; University at Buffalo President Satish Tripathi; Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D.; and two Dreamers, Nejvi Bejko and Leezia Dhalla.
While both Sen. Durbin and Rep. Pelosi are Catholic, they are at odds with their Church on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, ruled in 2014 that Durbin was barred from receiving Holy Communion in the diocese.
The most famous Jesuit institution in the United States -- Georgetown University -- has often rankled Catholic bishops and faithful for its stands. For example, in the 1990s, Georgetown alum Antonin Scalia -- a justice of the Supreme Court whose own son is a Jesuit priest -- vowed to cease giving contributions to Georgetown after the institution removed crucifixes from its classrooms.
James Martin SJ -- the editor-at-large of America Magazine -- is a well-known Jesuit priest and author who has recently become the focus of controversy because of his stance on homosexual relations that some theologians and hierarchs believe is at odds with long-standing Catholic tradition and teachings.
Other Catholics in Congress disagree with Democrats over DACA and other immigration-related issues. Among them are House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI). Also, according to the Pew Foundation, 58 percent of Catholic voters supported Donald Trump in the November 2016 presidential election despite appeals from some bishops.