President Trump’s Department of Justice announced this past week that it will take steps, over the next six months, to “rescind” the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which temporarily protected immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally, when they were children.
This 2012 temporary-amnesty plan was popularly linked to the concept of the “American Dream” and the executive action shielded these young “Dreamers” from deportation. As Attorney General Sessions explained:
“In other words, the Executive Branch, through DACA, deliberately sought to achieve what the legislative branch specifically refused to authorize on multiple occasions. Such an open-ended circumvention of immigration laws was an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the Executive Branch. ”
These “Dreamers” are young, undocumented immigrants over the age of 16 and below the age of 31. Many are now adults and their average age is 25. They claim to have been brought into this country by their parents before 2012 and have illegally resided here for 10 years, or more, but without any criminal records. Many have spent most of their lives in the United States and are now seeking educations, careers and even military service in this country.
While the “deferred action” by the Obama administration policy did not give these estimated 800,000 young people legal status, it did shield them from being deported and allowed them to seek work permits. Those currently with DACA status and two-year work permits would be allowed to stay in the U.S. until their permits expire, or even renew them for another two years.
President Trump has been clear that it is Congress’s constitutional role to legislate immigration issues. The announcement from Attorney General Sessions indicated that in winding down this program, no action of deportation will be made by the administration for the next six months, to give Congress time to act on this emotional issue. Their failure to stay on top of the surge of illegal immigration and the inexplicable loose border policies of the last administration have brought us to this crisis.
This is just the latest step in the social justice battle for understanding, compassion, and justice in the larger immigration debate, which has plagued our country for decades, if not centuries. As “a nation of immigrants,” we have not always assimilated and “played well together” with our new neighbors.
We have had the misfortune of simultaneously praising some and resenting others, or welcoming some immigrants while scapegoating immigration in general, since before the nation was actually founded. The fear of an unfamiliar mother tongue or custom from some immigrants or their refusal to assimilate and learn the language and ways of their host country has been the context of more than a few heated debates, hurried immigration policy proposals and—sadly—instances of bigoted hatred.
“Dreamers” in Scripture?
The “American Dream” has been the background of thought which has compelled millions to come to these shores from near and far. The economic success of the democratic experiment offering “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in this “land of the free and the home of the brave” has been a world-transforming phenomenon. Fiefdoms of the “old world” have fallen. The harsh, draconian, social experiments of socialism, Marxism, and communism have all but proven too burdensome for most of our world’s inhabitants.
Scripture reveals basic truths of how we humans are to relate to each other, including insights on immigration and immigrants. These truths are founded on the god-like quality of love, which always seeks the best for others. They are held together by the fabric of justice, which accepts and honors human authority and laws, as extensions of a sovereign God.
In the Old Testament, immigrants were to be granted acceptance (Leviticus 19:33-34; Exodus 22:21); were given opportunities to collect food (Lev. 19:9-10); and were to be treated justly (Lev. 1:16). This was not a blanket entitlement, as God required the immigrant to keep the laws of the land just like the native people (Ex. 12:48-49; 23:12).
The New Testament goes on to reveal God’s will is for citizens to obey the governing authorities (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14)—unless, government forces us to violate a law of God (Acts 5:29). Jesus explained, “Everyone who does evil, hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” (John 3:20)
“Dreamers” were in the shadows of society because their parents broke the law in bringing them here, in the first place, stretching to the max our emergency rooms, schools, health care and social service agencies. Our current immigration laws would close the borders and make them subject to deportation. If the will and sentiment of “we the people” have changed, then Congress must modify the laws so we can again justly and equitably enforce them.
In the meanwhile, people of faith must be charitable and civil in the midst of this very volatile social issue. Social commentator Larry Tomczak reminds us to view “God’s commands to love our neighbor as a directive, not an elective.”