Pope, Trump Feud Extends to Dreamers

Pope Francis and Donald Trump
Pope Francis meets President Donald Trump during a private audience at the Vatican on May 24. After the meeting, a picture of the two leaders served as the Twitter banner of both the @POTUS and @RealDonaldTrump accounts. Alessandra Tarantino/Reuters

In the latest chapter of the war of words between President Donald Trump and Pope Francis, the pontiff has criticized the president's decision to repeal a program that protects undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. when they were minors, saying the controversial move putting 800,000 so-called Dreamers at risk is not "pro-life."

"The president of the United States presents himself as pro-life, and if he is a good pro-lifer, he understands that family is the cradle of life and its unity must be protected," Francis said.

The pontiff made his comments aboard the papal aircraft as he returned to the Vatican City after a five-day trip to Colombia.

The pope seemed to be only tangentially aware of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and underlined that he wasn't familiar with its details. "If that is so, I am hopeful that it will be rethought," he said.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last week that the Trump administration would repeal the program in six months, giving Congress time to come up with a legislative replacement for the program. In the meantime, the Dreamers, many of whom have no recollection of the countries of their birth and consider themselves fully American, are in high anxiety about being deported. While the president last week tweeted that they need not worry for the next six months and has waxed optimistic about a legislative replacement for DACA, they will be subject to deportation come March 2018.

Francis also expressed fears that repeal of the 2012 program instituted by President Barack Obama would lead to the separation of families. "To take away young people from their families is not something that bears fruit, neither for the young people nor for their families," he said.

The president and the pope have gone at it since Trump entered the presidential race in 2015. Their first back-and-forth was over the proposed 1,954-mile border wall with Mexico, which became the signature issue of the Republican's nationalist campaign.

"A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges is not Christian," the pope said in 2015.

Trump called the pope's statement "disgraceful," adding that "if and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS's ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president because this would not have happened." He also questioned whether the pope was fit to question his faith.

The two have had cordial moments as well. When they met in May at the Vatican, each praised the other. "Honor of a lifetime to meet His Holiness Pope Francis. I leave the Vatican more determined than ever to pursue PEACE in our world," Trump wrote on Twitter following his visit. The two exchanged gifts, with the president giving the vicar of Rome the writings of Martin Luther King Jr., and in turn Trump received Francis's own writings.

Earlier this year, the president nominated and the Senate confirmed Callista Gingrich, the spouse of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, to be the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. She is still awaiting Senate confirmation. A devout Catholic, she married Gingrich after he divorced his second wife. Gingrich himself is a convert to Catholicism, having joined the church in advance of his marriage to the former House staff member.​