The struggle over legal protections for young immigrants is a proxy conflict about our nation’s future. Our debate over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program pits the Statue of Liberty versus the wall, human dignity versus nativist anger. As demagogues have driven our nation’s immigration, asylum and refugee policies since day one of the Trump administration, young immigrants and allies have refused to back down. Homes and jobs, hopes and dreams, all hang in the balance.
The long movement for justice for these children of God took a stride forward Thursday, when the Supreme Court struck down President Trump’s termination of DACA. The decision provided a moment of joyous relief for young immigrants living with the threat of deportation. but it’s a temporary reprieve. The administration’s authority to end the program was upheld.
DACA, begun in 2012 by the Obama administration, provides work permits and temporary protection from deportation for immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before age 16, are pursuing an education and/or working, and have no serious criminal record. Right now, it provides over 600,000 young immigrants freedom to live their everyday lives without fear of imminent deportation. But it was a patchwork solution intended to provide basic protections until Congress passed comprehensive immigration reform. The House of Representatives failed to deliver.
A community of faith
As a CEO, I’ve employed DACA holders. As a pastor, I’ve been part of the faith community’s sustained effort to uphold the dignity of immigrants. Under the leadership of young immigrant organizers, we have marched, prayed, protested, and lobbied Congress to protect immigrant families. When our neighbors face injustice, we must all pull together in solidarity. That’s what it means to live in a community of faith (1 Corinthians 12). We cannot turn away from this injunction.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, God commands the Israelites to treat immigrants as equals, with the explanation: “for you were once strangers in Egypt.” Because they knew what it was to struggle and flee, they must help others who struggle and flee. That’s what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.
We must put the same injunction on powerful people in our nation today, particularly Members of Congress. Regardless of your race or ethnicity, someone opened a door so you could flourish today. Go and do likewise. Senators must take these responsibilities to heart and pass the Dream and Promise Act. This bill enshrines protections created by DACA into permanent law. It passed the House of Representatives last year.
DACA recipients run the gamut of life experience. They are parents and teachers, pastors and soldiers, scholars and laborers. They also put their lives on the line by marching for Black Lives and combating the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 29,000 work in frontline healthcare jobs. Leaving them at the mercy of a white nationalist White House would be wrong at any time. It’s even more immoral and destructive right now.
Naming the evil
We must name the evils of racism and nativism when we see them. President Trump has always meant to harm immigrants of color. He put himself on the political map by claiming that President Obama was secretly foreign. He kicked off his presidential campaign by vilifying Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers. And he has steadily issued policies that traumatize immigrant families, asylum seekers and refugees. Ending DACA in 2017 was one of many horrors, ranging from banning entry from seven Muslim-majority countries, to ripping children away from their parents at the border in 2018, to quietly stopping the processing of asylum claims in 2019.
Even with a Supreme Court ruling in hand, young immigrants could still lose everything. President Trump has already tweeted threats to rescind DACA again. If we believe in values like community and dignity, fairness and equality, we must act now, together. Senators, the eyes of millions, and of God, and of history, turn to you.