The Morality of President Trump’s DACA Decision

As the Congress begins to address the DACA issue in earnest, a review of the Catholic Church’s teachings on, and their application to, the issues involved should contribute to an informed national debate. In addressing political realities the Church has always been guided by two principles—recognizing and protecting the dignity of the person and advancing the common good. Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes defined the common good as “the sum of those conditions of the social life whereby men, families and associations more adequately and readily may attain their own perfection.” These two principles lie at the core of the Church’s teaching on immigration as succinctly set forth by St. John Paul II in his January 1, 2001 message celebrating the annual World Day of Peace:

[I]t is important to remember the principle that immigrants must always be treated with the respect due to the dignity of every human person. In the matter of controlling the influx of immigrants, the consideration which should rightly be given to the common good should not ignore this principle. The challenge is to combine the welcome due to every human being, especially when in need, with a reckoning of what is necessary for both the local inhabitants and the new arrivals to live a dignified and peaceful life. (Emphasis added.)

It is true that, in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor, St. John Paul II affirmed that there are actions that are intrinsically evil “because they radically contradict the good of the person made in his image.” Quoting from Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes, he included “deportation” among these intrinsic acts. However, a later document suggests that this was not meant as a blanket prohibition of deportation. This author suspects that, in light of the German mass expulsion of Jews, which was still relatively fresh in their minds, the Council fathers were solely thinking of mass deportations of legal residents from their country of origin. Indeed, his 2003 Ecclesia in Europa, St. John Paul, while reiterating the fundamental rights of immigrants, also noted that

[p]ublic authorities have the responsibility of controlling waves of migration with a view  to the requirements of the common good. The acceptance of immigrants must always respect the norms of law and must therefore be combined, when necessary, with a firm suppression of abuses. (Emphasis added.)

The Trump Administration, in practice, is not deporting any law-abiding DACA child. Hence, whatever the intended definition of “deportation,” that moral principle does not appear to be in play.

Various other hierarchical pronouncements have referenced the twin principles of protecting human dignity and the common good. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that

[t]he more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. …

Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.  (Emphasis added.)

St. John Paul noted in his 1999 Ecclesia in America that the Church must protect “against unjust restriction [of] the natural right of individual persons to move freely within their own nation and from one nation to another.” (Emphasis added.) John XXIII similarly stated, in his vaunted Pacem in Terris: “[A]nd among man’s personal rights we must include his right to enter a country in which he hopes to be able to provide more fittingly for himself and his dependents. It is therefore the duty of State officials to accept such immigrants and—so far as the good of their own community, rightly understood, permits—to further the aims of those who may wish to become members of a new society. (Emphasis added.)

Hence, the perennial teaching of the Church does not require that in helping illegal immigrants, the real needs and concerns of Americans be ignored. Rather, the common good also includes the legitimate concerns of native-born Americans. President Trump, in addressing his DACA rescission, aptly stated that “[w]e must also have heart and compassion for unemployed, struggling, and forgotten Americans.” In his press secretary’s conference on the DACA decision, she provided the factual realities to which these principles should be applied:

it’s a known fact that there are over 4 million unemployed Americans in the same age group as those that are DACA recipients; that over 950,000 of those are African Americans in the same age group; over 870,000 unemployed Hispanics in the same age group.

Hence it is clear that concern for the common good requires that the very real needs of both groups must be reasonably balanced.

Some of the statements made by bishops when President Trump first announced his DACA decision minimized the severe Constitutional defect of the Obama executive order on the basis that the lives of real persons are adversely impacted in contravention of the principle of respect for the dignity and integrity of persons. So it was argued that it was not right to eliminate DACA without another remedy having already been put in its place. However, the constitutional concern is no mere legal nicety. In Centesimus Annus, St. John Paul II rightly recognized the danger of despotism, which can be properly addressed by the separation of governmental powers. He instructed that, in order to protect the freedom of all, “it is preferable that each power be balanced by other powers and by other spheres of responsibility which keep it within proper bounds. This is the principle of the “rule of law,” in which the law is sovereign, and not the arbitrary will of individuals.”

Our Constitution separates the executive and legislative powers and limits the power of the federal government as a whole so as to prevent the establishment of a dictatorship. The power “[t]o establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization” is one of those solely reserved to the Congress.

DACA was one among a number of Barack Obama’s presidential fiats which usurped power relegated to the legislative branch. President Trump rightly needed to stop this dangerous trend, which if continued, could have eventually resulted with government having become our master rather than our elected servant. That would not have been much of a legacy to leave to the DACA children.

At the time that President Trump made the DACA decision, he was under the very real threat of a multi-state Constitutional challenge to DACA that was likely to be successful, thereby eliminating the program anyway. The president did not simply eliminate DACA. He challenged Congress to draft a permanent solution to the problem of children, who with or without their parents, had entered the United States illegally, giving Congress six months to accomplish this goal. It was a prudential decision aimed at forcing the constitutionally empowered branch to do its job. Had he merely threatened Congress that he would eliminate DACA, without providing a time-prescripted order actually doing so, Congress would likely have continued to sit on its hands with respect to this issue.

St. John Paul II advised, in Centesimus Annus, that “ [t]he Church is not entitled to express preferences for this or that institutional or constitutional solution.” One may argue that the DACA decision does not foster the dignity of the involved persons, but Catholic doctrine does not require such a position.

The common good demands a true legislative solution instead of an executive dictate susceptible to legitimate judicial nullification. President Trump is trying to make any legalization of DACA children conditioned on approval of policies that effectuate legitimate constraints on immigration. A moral imperative exists to pass legislation that provides the DACA young persons already in our country legal status while eliminating policies that encourage or entice illegal immigration so as to obviate facing the same dilemma in the future. President Trump’s approach gives strong impetus toward that goal. The focus now should be on accomplishing this task.


Richard P. Maggi, Esq., has been a litigation attorney for the past 40 years. He is also a commentator on religion and politics having been published in Homiletic & Pastoral Review, First Things (web edition), the Washington Examiner, Human Life Review, and Notre Dame Magazine. He recently retired from the board of the Legal Center for the Defense of Life, is a Past Grand Knight of Summit Council 783, and an active member of Our Lady of Peace Parish in New Providence, New Jersey.

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