Dreamers feel they are Americans contributing to Church, community

February 13, 2018

Groups of dreamers and supporters, including clergy, held a media conference sponsored by The Metropolitan Organization at St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Aldine. They gathered thousands of postcards mailed to Congressional members to seek support of continuing the DACA program. Photo courtesy of The Metropolitan Organization.

HOUSTON — Angelica Velazquez came to the United States when she was only three years old. Her parents brought her from Mexico to the United States on tourist visas that they then overstayed.

Now 20, Velazquez applied, paid her fees and was accepted as part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to keep families together. The program has become a political football during a season of a government shutdown, a border wall proposal and pending mid-year elections. About 35,800 in Houston and 800,000 nationwide of the so-called dreamers who have so far been shielded from deportation are anxious.

“We are not asking for free things or handouts. All we want is to be able to work and be part of this society. We are not taking anything away from people, we are contributing,” said Velazquez, who has a job, attends college and has obtained a driver’s license.

A member of St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Aldine, she said, “I’ve led a youth and young adult music ministry and faithfully participate every Sunday in the choir.”

Velazquez was among those, including Father Carmelo Hernandez, pastor at St. Leo the Great, attending a recent press conference organized by The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) and held at the church to support continuing the DACA program. The group had packets of 20,000 postcards that they were mailing to legislators to seek resolution. 

The cards were mailed to U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, and U.S. Congressmen Pete Olson, Kevin Brady, John Culberson and Ted Poe, all from the Republican Party, as well as Democratic congressional representatives Sheila Jackson Lee and Gene Green. TMO is also planning an accountability session at the church hall Feb. 18 at 3:30 p.m., inviting Republican and Democratic candidates seeking Green’s congressional seat to speak at the event.

TMO spokeswoman Elizabeth Valdez said, “We will be following up with Congressional members and their responses to the public’s support of the DACA program.” 

She said people interested in receiving the postcards to sign and mail in to their representatives can contact the TMO office at 713-807-1429 or its website at www.tmohouston.org.

A federal judge in California granted a temporary order against the termination of DACA, thus allowing dreamers currently registered with the government to apply for renewal. President Donald Trump had suspended the executive order signed by his predecessor that created the program and is now saying he would sign a DACA deal in exchange for Democrats supporting the funding of his promised border wall that now comes with a price tag of $24 billion.

Attorneys with Catholic Charities’ St. Frances Cabrini Center for Immigrant Legal Assistance have been busy with free DACA workshops, including on Saturdays, trying to help those applicants renew their expiring DACA permits.

In fiscal year 2017, the center held 25 workshops and filed for 439 applications at its offices at 2707 North Loop West. Within the 30-day renewal period after Trump’s announcement, another 14 workshops helped 189 with their renewals. And since the federal court’s temporary order Jan. 9, workshops continue to help dozens more even with the uncertainty of the program, said Zenobia T. Lai, the center’s program director.

“There are several scenarios in which we can help applicants so we encourage them to go onto our website at catholiccharities.org and register for one of our workshops. Our attorneys are reviewing each case,” Lai said.

“Some of the applicants, even though they may lose their filing fees of hundreds of dollars if the government decides to stop the program, still want to go forward with the renewal request. That shows their determination and hope,” she said.