For the past 30 years, America has had two signs up at the border. One was a “Welcome” sign in Spanish: “Bienvenidos!” The other, in English, said, “Keep Out.”
First Richard Land and then Russell Moore, the former and current presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), have used this mental image to explain the complexity and brokenness inherent in our nation’s immigration system over the past several decades. As with any broken governmental and societal system full of mixed signals, unequally and randomly enforced laws, and basic negligence and unlawfulness from a host of directions, our failing immigration system has produced a large population of victims.
Now, young people brought here illegally as children years ago are on the brink. Many of these young people are our neighbors and members of our own churches. They demand our compassion as Christians who know that every person is made in God’s image.Justice and mercy demand an answer for DREAMers, even as we as a nation expend great effort to secure the border and uphold the rule of law.
Well over a million young people did not choose to come here but were brought here illegally at young ages by their parents or were sent here as “unaccompanied children” (UACs). They have grown up in America, attended our schools, learned English, and often have little to no memory of their home countries. Because of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, instituted in 2012, about 800,000 “DREAMers,” as they are called, have taken advantage of this program and have been working, going to college and living productive lives as they seek to fulfill the American dream. Many are now raising families of their own, with children who are U.S. citizens.
Should the Trump administration rescind DACA soon, as seems likely as early as this week, the DREAMers, who know no country but America as home, will be subject to deportation, just like every other undocumented immigrant.
That’s right. Every undocumented immigrant in America is now a priority for deportation — not just violent criminals or “bad hombres,” as President Trump called them. The acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Thomas Homan, spoke about the expanded priorities in a recent Dallas News article: “There is no population off the table.”
In a recent series of raids called Operation Border Guardian/Border Resolve, 650 undocumented immigrants were arrested. Of that group, 70 percent were not targets but people coincidentally “encountered during this operation,” ICE said. That means that 70 percent of those detained for deportation were picked up for no reason other than their immigration status.
The reality is that if DACA is rescinded or allowed to sunset, as predicted, then about 800,000 DACA recipients will be subject to deportation — to countries many of them have no memory of.
These are victims of our broken immigration system and our failure to enforce our immigration laws and create a pathway for those illegally brought here as children to get right with the law. Except for extreme circumstances, American immigration law provides no way for these young people to be legalized within this country. They would have to return to countries they don’t know, with no guarantee that they ever would be allowed to return legally.
That means my friend Erick, a 25-year-old graduate student who was brought here at age 2 and doesn’t remember Mexico, is in line for deportation, but his younger brother stays because he was born here. Another young man I know who is 19 and was brought here when he was 6 months old could get deported, but his five younger siblings stay because they were born here. Another friend who was brought here at 2 years old and is now 27 is at risk, and his kids, who are U.S. citizens, either have to go with him to a country he doesn’t know or land in foster care because their Daddy is gone.
This is not justice. This is not how a just and merciful government solves a 30-year problem for which it is partially to blame. We must recognize our own failings as a country to adequately manage our immigration system and secure our own borders, and understand that the consequences of our inaction must not be applied to innocent people. The DREAMers are innocent victims of the failure of a system. They are not intentional lawbreakers. Is there any other facet of American law where we blame people for things done to them when they were 2, 3 and 4 years old? Biblical Justice demands that we care for the vulnerable.
Unless Congress provides a legislative solution for DREAMers this fall, they will all potentially face deportation, with no protection. As Christians, we should oppose such an injustice — and support new laws that will benefit American workers, churches and communities overall.
Such solutions include the bipartisan Dream Act of 2017, introduced in the Senate and the House, and the Recognizing America’s Children (RAC) Act, introduced in the House. Bills such as these would allow young DREAMers to earn permanent legalized status, and eventual citizenship, if they speak English, have no criminal record, and have a significant work history and/or go to school or enlist in the military. This would be a rigorous process. Bills such as these would provide a way for America to rectify wrongs in our immigration system over the past 30 years without unjustly punishing victims.
As Christians and as Evangelicals, we must recognize that all people are made in God’s image and are recipients of His love. God demands us to act justly, to love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). Justice and mercy demand an answer for DREAMers, even as we as a nation expend great effort to secure the border and uphold the rule of law.
We are at a crossroads. The time to act on behalf of DREAMers is now, while our leaders consider how to respond. What should we do? Pray. Befriend immigrants and minister Christ to them and their families. They are scared right now. Speak on behalf of the vulnerable (Prov. 31:8-9). Contact your representatives and senators and ask them to consider a just and merciful approach to helping DREAMers be able to stay instead of experiencing exile from the only country they’ve known.
We can navigate this immigration crossroads according to biblical principles. Evangelicals will regain our voice in our culture when we spend ourselves on behalf of the least of these and work to “tell a better story” in regard to the victims of the broken systems all around us.
Reflecting God’s love and working to protect DREAMers is a profound place to start.