Why I Signed a Statement in Defense of the DACA Dreamers
In August I signed the Nashville Statement about marriage, addressing gender issues and homosexual marriage. While controversial and perhaps in some parts imperfectly worded, I still believe that was the right thing to do.
Recently I also signed an Evangelical Leader Statement of Principles on Dreamers, which focuses on encouraging solutions for those in the now rescinded DACA program. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, approved under the Obama administration, was for 800,000 immigrants who entered the country illegally as minors and have no criminal records. The program, which was simply a stopgap and never a permanent solution, gave these children who’ve grown up in the U.S. and want to make something of their lives a chance to get an education and remain in the country. DACA was rescinded by the Trump administration in September.
The Dreamers and DACA
Here’s more explanation from the ERLC (Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention) about the Dreamers, and DACA:
The term “Dreamers” (sometimes DREAMers) refers to young undocumented immigrants who would qualify under the DREAM Act for permanent residency in the United States. The DREAM Act (an acronym for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) is proposed federal legislation that would provide permanent resident status on a conditional basis for certain long-term residents who entered the U.S. as children.
Even though the DREAM Act was never passed, the term “Dreamers” is still sometimes used to describe young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as minors, are pursuing or have pursued education, and have never been convicted of felonies or multiple misdemeanors.
Frustrated by the failure of Congress to pass the DREAM Act, President Obama implemented in 2010 through executive fiat the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
Deferred action is a use of prosecutorial discretion in immigration cases to defer removal action against an individual for a certain period of time. President Obama directed the Department of Homeland Security to consider request for deferred action for certain people who came to the United States as children and met qualifications similar to the DREAM Act. (This is why people who qualify for DACA are sometimes referred to as “Dreamers.”)
The ERLC has always called for a legislative fix to this problem and disagreed with President Obama’s decision to act unilaterally. But regardless of whether we feel the executive order should have been issued in the first place, thousands of young immigrants who are paying taxes and contributing to their communities stepped forward in good faith to correct a legal situation for which they should not be held responsible. They should be rewarded, rather than punished, for their attempt to comply with the law.
Read more on the Dreamers here.
Encouraging Legislative Action
Personally, I love to see evangelicals coming out not only against what we believe is wrong, but also in defense of minorities and advocating for giving a chance to the children of illegal immigrants who were promised something by our country. (See Evangelical leaders call for help for Dreamers.)
I too think President Obama and President Trump should not have made, nor make, unilateral decisions altering public policy, but when this is done we need to try our best to be just and fair in resolving them.
Here’s an excerpt from the statement I signed, explaining more about its aim of encouraging legislative action:
We support the underlying policy aim of DACA because we believe this is a special category of immigrants who are not legally culpable, who in most cases have no home other than the United States, and who are a blessing to their communities and to their churches. At the same time, many of us shared a skepticism about the prudence of accomplishing the aim solely through temporary action of the Executive Branch. Indeed, the reversal of this policy and the uncertainty created for existing DACA recipients prove that a proper solution requires legislative action.
Biblically understood, a just system of law always has in view human flourishing. We advocate for change to particular laws when needed because of our respect for the rule of law. Many of us have participated in our nation’s debate over immigration policy reform for well over a decade, and these conversations within our churches about the national immigration crisis have produced significant consensus among members of our churches and communities.
We now call on Congress for a timely solution on a narrow issue of national consensus: provide a legal remedy for the subset of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children by their parents, those immigrants commonly called Dreamers.
The statement focuses on six basic principles:
- We believe it is unjust to punish children for offenses they did not commit.
- We believe America’s borders must be secure.
- We believe we should welcome Dreamers of good moral character and who are working hard to contribute to our country.
- We believe Dreamers deserve to be recognized as our fellow Americans.
- We believe our government should provide a pathway to permanent legal status and/or citizenship for eligible Dreamers.
- We believe a just government works to maintain the integrity of families.
Read the whole statement here. I appreciated the opportunity to sign this letter, not only to make a statement about what I believe is right and God-honoring, but also because I am alert to the situations of some of these young people as a result of being in the process of becoming a mentor for minority students who aspire to go to college. One of the students they asked me to consider working with is a gifted writer and also a Dreamer, and now he fears he will be deported and unable to go to a high-quality college he’s already been accepted at.
What God’s Word Says about Sojourners
I think many people, sometimes unfairly and sometimes not, perceive evangelicals as against hope and opportunity for these young Dreamers who have much to gain but also much to contribute to our country. Christians are routinely accused of only caring about abortion and homosexuality, and not caring enough about already born people, including the poor and needy and immigrants. This accusation may be true in some cases, and we must all be ready to ask the Lord what more we can do to help people in His name. (Of course in many cases, people concerned about abortion and moral issues are the very same people who open their homes to provide foster care, adopt, and give financially to help the impoverished and the needy, including victims of the many recent natural disasters.)
Scripture has much to say about caring for aliens and sojourners. What follows does not mean America cannot and should not have carefully-governed immigration policies or border control. I actually think we should. But I also think supporting the Dreamers is the sort of limited but meaningful effort that could honor God by helping people and at the same time not put our country at risk. Putting politics and pragmatics aside just for the moment, please allow these passages to speak to your heart:
“The same law will apply to both the native and the alien who resides among you” (Exodus 12:49).
“Moses had said, ‘I have been a resident alien in a foreign land’” (Exodus 18:3).
“You must not exploit a resident alien or oppress him, since you were resident aliens in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21, CSB).
“You must not oppress a resident alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be a resident alien because you were resident aliens in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9, CSB).
“He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19).
“Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place” (Jeremiah 22:3).
“Do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart” (Zechariah 7:10).
Scriptures like these remind us there is more we all can do to help needy and vulnerable people, both around the world and in our communities. One place to start might be by signing this letter I and others have signed, and sharing it with your sphere of influence. And let’s all pray for a real solution for these Dreamers, who are real individuals with real stories and hopes and ambitions.
Following Jesus Wherever His Teachings Take Us
I am well aware that some of the people who were outraged that I signed the Nashville Statement will be pleased that I signed this statement on the Dreamers. I also realize that some who were pleased I signed the Nashville Statement will be bothered that I signed this one.
The truth is, life is much easier when your goal is to be consistent with a political philosophy, whether that’s conservativism or liberalism. But easier does not mean right. I believe that we as Christ-followers should never put our conservativism or liberalism above our mandate to follow Jesus. If I believe my position and action on a particular issue is consistent with the character and teachings of Jesus, who is full of both truth and grace, I should not care whether I am siding with conservatives or liberals. If my goal is to please conservatives or liberals, then I am not a servant of Jesus (to paraphrase Galatians 1:10). No political philosophy redeems us—only Jesus does that.
I say this because I am often stereotyped by liberals as being an uncaring conservative because I oppose abortion (as if not wanting children to die or women to be exploited and hurt is being uncaring). And I am sometimes stereotyped by conservatives for being a bleeding heart liberal for taking seriously the notion that racism and racial injustice is sometimes still a problem in America.
If you’d like to understand better my perspectives on the idea that conservatives and liberals are both sometimes right and sometimes wrong, see my article “Conservative, Liberal or Christian?” In it, I explain why it shouldn’t matter to us as Jesus-followers whether we “look conservative” or “look liberal” on any issue, only that we follow our King wherever His teachings and example take us.