Opinion Thomas Reese: Signs of the Times

Today I plan to get arrested

Editors Note: The Rev. Thomas Reese was arrested with dozens of other Catholics Tuesday afternoon (Feb. 27) in the Capitol Rotunda in an act of civil disobedience. They were advocating for legislation to help undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. 

(RNS) — On Tuesday (Feb. 27) I am planning to get arrested on Capitol Hill at the National Catholic Day of Action with Dreamers. My arrest will be an expression of solidarity with “Dreamers” who face arrest and deportation if Congress or the president does not do something to protect their legal status.

Dreamers were brought to this country as children by their parents. These children have grown up in this country, gone to school and church here, learned English, and are as much a part of America as someone born here.

To say that they broke the law and should be punished would be like prosecuting a baby in a stroller when its mother shoplifts diapers at Walmart.

Catholic activists occupy the Capitol Rotunda during a National Catholic Day of Action with Dreamers rally on Feb. 27, 2018, in Washington. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

This crisis was created by the Trump administration in September when it announced plans to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which had been put into place by President Obama. DACA allowed an estimated 780,000 Dreamers to stay temporarily in this country, and work and go to school without fear of arrest and deportation.

Because of their DACA status, many of them were already contributing with their military service. Others are teachers, health care employees or workers who serve our country in other productive ways. If they lose DACA, they could be deported, which would be tragic for them and a loss for our nation.

The American people by a ratio of 2-to-1 favor granting legal status to Dreamers. Even 51 percent of Republicans support this according to the National Opinion Research Center.

Rather than doing what is good for these children and the country, Republican leaders have played politics, trying to use the Dreamers as a bargaining chip to get Congress to pay for Trump’s wall along our southern border and to make radical changes in our immigration laws.

The Rev. Thomas Reese is arrested during a National Catholic Day of Action with Dreamers rally in the Capitol Rotunda on Feb. 27, 2018, in Washington. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

What we need is legal protection for Dreamers and a path to citizenship.

This will be my first time getting arrested. Many of my Jesuit colleagues were arrested during the 1960s and 70s when demonstrations about Vietnam, civil rights and farmworkers were common. As part of these demonstrations, peaceful civil disobedience was not uncommon.

At a time when Dreamers face arrest and deportation, getting arrested is a symbolic gesture of solidarity with threatened people who are part of our community. As a Jesuit, I feel this especially because thousands of these Dreamers have been our students and parishioners. They are our friends and colleagues.

As a Jesuit, before I put myself in danger of getting arrested, I have to get permission from my provincial superior. I am happy to report that not only did I get permission, the Rev. Scott Santarosa missioned me to represent him and Jesuits West, the Jesuit province covering the Western United States. He felt strongly that we Jesuits should be speaking out and putting our bodies on the line for Dreamers.

Demonstrators rally in support of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) outside the Capitol, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018, in Washington. Democrats have been seeking a deal to protect the “Dreamers,” who have been shielded against deportation by DACA, which President Donald Trump halted last year. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

At the same time, I realize that my arrest will in no way be comparable to the arrests faced by immigrants who will not be released after a few hours and a small fine. If they are not protected by DACA or new legislation, their arrests will lead to devastating and permanent damage to their lives.

Enough of playing politics. Protect Dreamers!

About the author

Thomas Reese

The Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit priest, is a Senior Analyst at RNS. Previously he was a columnist at the National Catholic Reporter (2015-17) and an associate editor (1978-85) and editor in chief (1998-2005) at America magazine. He was also a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University (1985-98 & 2006-15) where he wrote Archbishop, A Flock of Shepherds, and Inside the Vatican. Earlier he worked as a lobbyist for tax reform. He has a doctorate in political science from the University of California Berkeley. He entered the Jesuits in 1962 and was ordained a priest in 1974 after receiving a M.Div from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley.

21 Comments

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  • You don’t need to get arrested now. The US Supreme Court today has refuused to accept the Trump Administration’s plea against two appealate courts who have ruled against Trump’s executive orders regarding the DREAM Act. A great reprieve for Dreamers.

  • I applaud your willingness to risk arrest, and your boss for supporting you.

    It seems that the threat to those already in the programme has been postponed rather than cancelled.

    Hopefully POTUS will eventually realise that his legacy is in danger of being that of “biglyist loseriest amateur president of all time” and let the matter drop. Unfortunately psychopaths tend to persist in their need for what they can accept as adequate revenge until they have a minor victory they can inflate to a triumph.

    However – I do think that the sense of justice behind the sentence “To say that they broke the law and should be punished would be like prosecuting a baby in a stroller when its mother shoplifts diapers at Walmart.” (with which I totally concur) could also be conveyed by writing “To say that they broke the law and should be punished would be like visiting pain and suffering on future generations because an ancestor took a bite out a piece of fruit”.

    That said – I’m not sure that Jesuits regard the Christian creation myths as any thing more than sort-of-parables, but it surely poses a problem (or, depending upon their attitude, provides a justification) for those odd people who need to regard said myths as real.

  • Nothing if not consistent. The Roman church has always held itself to be above the law and openly does whatever it wants to do in its attempt to reclaim the glory days when it owned the entire western world.

  • I’m no supporter of the RCC – but this is, at best, a somewhat curmudgeonly and highly selective/deflective comment is it not?

    The conviction that there is a conveniently self-serving set of rules supplied by a deity of dubious provenance and which transcends temporal laws is not limited to Roman Catholics, nor to Christians. Even some of us who are unable to imagine god(s) understand the validity of concepts such as justice and morality.

  • Thomas Reese states that his brother Jesuits were tantrum-throwing criminals in the past century, and that he himself will throw a tantrum and thereby become a criminal.
    So long as we tolerate tantrums, the tantrums will continue.

  • “Hopefully POTUS will eventually realise …” That’s where you went off the rails….realization requires self-examination 🙂

  • I am very grateful for the gospel-based testimony of people like Father Reese and John Lewis, who tweeted today (https://twitter.com/repjohnlewis/status/968598130773168128):

    58 years ago today, I was arrested for the first time as a participant in the sit-ins at lunch counters in downtown Nashville. Walking out to the paddy wagons, I tried to walk with a sense of pride & dignity. I felt free, I felt liberated. I felt like I crossed over. #goodtrouble.

    Jesus was not crucified because he cozied up to emperors, kings, or, in contemporary terms, presidents. He didn’t lie in state in the empire’s rotunda.

    Rather the opposite.

  • Suppose President Trump decides to play the game the same way you have chosen to do it. He sends ICE onto a college campus to put everyone currently holding a legitimate DACA document in handcuffs and transports them to their native countries. Is some court rules her can not do that he responds as did Andrew Jackson saying the court has made its ruling now see if you can get someone to enforce it. The only option would be to impeach him. Impeach requires a majority of the House that is more than half Republican and 67 Senators of whom more than 50 are Republicans. Highly unlikely.

    Do you really want to go down that road?

  • The Rev. Thomas Reese and the Nuns have more Faith than the whole group of American Conference of Bishops put together. Then they wonder why people are leaving the Catholic Faith. When Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment and he answered Love the Lord your God with your whole heart, soul, and mind. He then answered the second greatest commandment is Love your Neighbor as yourself.

  • I’ve had several Roman chaplains work for me and several Prots (even a Rabbi and rubbed shoulders with an Immam). My Roman guys convinced me that nothing much has changed.

  • “My Roman guys convinced me that nothing much has changed.”

    I’m sure they have 🙂

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