“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.” – Proverbs 31:8-9
My young immigrant friend keeps calling me. He knows that I work with churches and groups on immigrant/refugee ministry and that I keep up with what is happening from a policy perspective. So, he keeps calling and texting. He was brought here illegally when he was 2 years old. He’s now in his late 20’s and has lived in America all of his life. He is married and has children, all of whom are U.S. citizens. He works a job to support his family and works hard. He’s never been in trouble with the law and is a leader in his immigrant community.
My friend is currently allowed to do all of this because of DACA – “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” – that President Obama instituted to protect immigrant “Dreamers” from deportation in light of Congress not being able to pass legislation. He trusted our government’s offer, came forward, applied, paid the fees, went through background checks, and has kept up with his paperwork and has continued to abide by the terms of the program. Through this, he can provide for his children, who are U.S. citizens. DACA, which protects 860,000 people like my friend, is now under assault from 10 state Attorneys General who have warned President Trump that if he does not revoke DACA by September 5th, then they will file a lawsuit to have it struck down.
While President Trump has kept the program in place and indicated that he actually does not want to see Dreamers deported, his Justice Department has indicated that they will not defend DACA in the courts. As one Republican leader told me recently, “DACA is dead. We need a replacement.” I’m less interested in defending DACA than I am in what happens to the 1 million+ Dreamers if/when DACA goes away.
“You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”—Leviticus 19:34
“Yeah we must pray, because my wife is already afraid because if they cancel DACA, they know my address …they might come for me…i asked the attorney and he said if they cancel it they will start to deport all the Dreamers without a criminal check … I’m scared too.”
This was the message from my friend the other day. His wife is afraid. He fears what will happen to him and his family. Keep in mind, he was brought here at 2 years old. He didn’t make the decision to come here. And, he is here legally under the protection of our government. But, that protection is in danger. What are we going to do about this? These are people in our churches.
If DACA goes away this Fall, as it very well could do, and if Congress does not pass legislation as a replacement, then all of these young people are stripped of their protection and reenter the larger population of undocumented immigrants who are subject to deportation. According to the release of internal DHS memos, the reality right now is that all of the undocumented immigrants in our country are now, essentially, priorities for deportation, whether one is a criminal or not. I’m personally aware of stories when people who came here as teenagers and young people are being pulled over for traffic stops in Georgia. Police ask for identification. When it can’t be produced, they aren’t just given a ticket, but are taken into custody and sent to a Federal detention facility where they await deportation. Whether or not they are the only provider for their family or if they leave citizen children behind is immaterial. Deportation has come not just to the “bad hombres,” but to the whole undocumented community.
It is one thing when violent criminals are being deported. But, what happens when it is a young man or woman brought here as toddlers and this is the only country they know?
According to U.S. government numbers, there are 260,873 DACA recipients in the US South. There are approximately 860,000 DACA recipients overall in America. There might be a million more who are eligible and meet the requirements and are considered “Dreamers,” but have not applied.
“You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”—Exodus 23:9
Evangelicals have a chance to speak and act on behalf of Dreamers. The President and political party in power making these decisions are those that we have sought to have a seat at the table with for the past several decades. Evangelicals, including Southern Baptists, voted for this president with 81% support, primarily because we thought that he would best represent biblical values on issues such as the sanctify of human life. Now that 1-2 million lives are potentially to be affected dramatically, are we able to muster the courage to speak on their behalf? To write an OpEd? Pray? Reach out to them in concern and ministry? Call or visit a Congressman or Senator’s office and express a desire to see these people who qualify provided with legalized status?
It would be a popular decision. According to a recent Morning Consult Poll, the vast majority of Americans want to see Dreamers who qualify (who haven’t committed crimes, who work, speak English, have graduated or are in school, etc.) be able to stay in the United States, recognizing that they were brought here as children and this is the country they grew up in. These numbers are consistent with a myriad of polls on this issue over the past year or two. The numbers are striking and do not match what we often hear in the media:
- 78% over voters say Dreamers should be allowed to stay. Only 14% say they should be deported.
- 78% of Evangelicals say they should stay with legalized status, 16% say they should be deported.
- In the South, 75% say they should be able to stay and only 15% say they should be deported.
- And, among Trump voters, 73% say they should be allowed to stay in some form of legalized status, while only 23% say they should be deported.
So, while the Rule of Law is important, our form of government states that laws can be changed. Senators Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin introduced the Dream Act 2017 last week in the U.S. Senate. There are multiple versions of similar bills that have been introduced in the House. None of these bills are “amnesty.” They would only allow a path and process for these young people to get on to earn legalized status and then potentially earn citizenship down the road as they continue to work and go to school here in America. Just like I’m not advocating for DACA, per se, I’m also not advocating for one of these bills necessarily. The ultimate solution might look different from these bills. I just want to see some kind of solution for these young people, whatever the vehicle. I’ll advocate for them.
Currently, there is no way for these young people to gain legalized status unless they return to their home country and start over. That is an incredibly daunting task for someone who is 25 years old, has a family, and was brought here when he was 2 years old and has no memory of his home country. I have another friend who is 18 years old and he was brought here at 6 months old, He is the oldest in his family with 5 younger siblings who are all U.S. citizens. He told me that he doesn’t want handouts and desires to work and contribute. He is just asking if he can stay with his family and not be sent away. He knew what he was up against, but he just wants to stay with his siblings and not have to leave because of what side of the border he was born on. He is set to graduate high school this year.
These stories are endless. Evangelical Christians can make a difference here. These young people are in our communities and in our churches. So many of these young people are Christians. They play ball with our kids and have grown up alongside them in our neighborhoods. I’ve met them at SBC seminaries as they prepare for ministry and have met them in colleges. They are all around us. Can we not help them? Can we not speak on their behalf? What will be said of us who could have intervened if DACA is revoked and these young people are deported? We had all that wealth and all that power and what did we do with it? Perhaps, we will speak on their behalf and we will see a miracle. Perhaps we will be a nation not just of laws, but also a nation of mercy. Our immigration problems are 30 years in the making as our government failed in this essential task. Let’s not solve these problems by wrecking the lives of 1-2 million young people who were brought or sent here without being able to give consent. Can we not speak for them right now? The time is urgent.
Yes, we need border security, and I know that is being worked on feverishly by this administration. Yes, criminal aliens who have committed violent crimes need to be deported. Yes, the rule of law is important, and a decision to help these Dreamers get right with the law in a Constitutional and legislative way actually enhances the rule of law. But, we also must remember that these young people didn’t choose this. While we need justice, we also need mercy, especially for those who found themselves in this situation through no fault of their own. How we handle this will determine what kind of nation we are going to be for the foreseeable future.
The decision to either solve this or to deport these young people will be made by early September. We are at a crossroads. The issue has been forced. We can’t ignore this any longer. Southern Baptists could help solve this in the next 4-6 weeks if we would contact our Representatives and Senators and ask them to intervene on behalf of these young people and make a way for them to stay. Submit an OpEd to your local paper. Hold a meeting to pray for them. Go to them with prayer, ministry, comfort, and the gospel. It is amazing what an open door we have right now to minister to this population of people in need. Scripture would be on our side as would the heart of the God for the quartet of the vulnerable: the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the sojourner (Zechariah 7:8-14). What if we spoke out and used our freedom and influence to solve this major problem in our country on behalf of others?
What will we do? The crisis is upon us.
Additional Ministry and Advocacy Resources:
If you’d like more perspective on the issue of immigrant and refugee ministry and biblical advocacy, you can check out the When Heaven and Earth Collide Podcast on iTunes. I have interviews with SBC leaders such as Richard Land, Bart Barber, Danny Akin, JD Greear and Todd Unzicker, Bryant Wright, Matthew Hall, Vance Pittman, David Crosby, Ed Stetzer, and Trent DeLoach up so far. More are coming!
Also, here is a short video from Dr. Richard Land, former president of the ERLC, about the immigration situation and what a solution would look like.
And, finally, a resource that I prepared for the SBC Pastor’s Conference booth in Phoenix called Preaching God’s Heart for Immigrants and Refugees: Reaching the Nations in North America. This resource contains a theological perspective on immigrant and refugee ministry from Dr. Miguel Echevarria of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, a missiological perspective from Keelan Cook of People’s Next Door NC, and a pastoral perspective, from Jonathan Akin, as he works through how to preach on the topic of reaching immigrants and refugees with the gospel.
And, finally, finally, Southern Baptists have spoken on this issue officially multiple times through SBC Resolutions. “Dreamers” are not spoken to directly, but these resolutions can be informative: