On 12 November 2019 the Supreme Court of the United States began hearings on details pertaining to the repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Originally put into law by former President Barack Obama in 2012, current President Donald Trump has furiously sought to eradicate the program as well as many other Obama-era programs.
While Trump rescinded the program during his early days in office in 2017, the program is not officially dead and the outcome of the program has been debated by both higher and lower courts throughout the country. Hanging in the balance are between 690,000 to 800,000 qualified illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. DACA was designed to give children brought to the US illegally a two-year probationary period and a work visa.
Prior to Trump’s ascendancy to the Oval Office, President Obama had worked to extend the protection of the program to cover additional undocumented immigrants that came prior to 2010. In 2017 Trump effectively blocked the extension and has sought, along with the Department of Homeland Security, to eventually phase out DACA. However this condition rested on Congress’ ability to pass a similar protection for illegal immigrant children. Congress was unable to reach a compromise but several US courts have blocked the total rescinding of the program.
History of DACA
According to the Pew Research Center, in 2017 there were a total of 44.4 million immigrants living in the United States, over 13% of the population. Of that number, 10.7 million are undocumented illegal immigrants, the majority of which are from Mexico and Central America. Among those who arrive in the US illegally, a large percentage are children brought by their parents. Over the years, this number has continued to increase.
According to a report written by Angela Adams of Indiana University, ‘Roughly 1.8 million of the nation’s undocumented population is eighteen years old or younger, and an estimated 65,000 undocumented students graduate from American high schools each year’ (Access to Higher Education for Undocumented and ‘Dacamented Student’: The Current State of Affairs).
President Obama looked more favourably on immigration and sought to provide protections for those who might otherwise be deported to their home countries. Over the course of Obama’s first term, Congress had failed to pass legislation to give protection to such individuals. Obama then took an executive privilege on 15 June 2012 and passed the DACA act into law. Students could apply and receive relief from deportation and a two-year work visa (which could be renewed).
‘[U]nauthorized immigrants ages 15 to 30 who arrived in the U.S. before age 16 may qualify for deferred action if: They have continuously resided in the U.S. since June 15, 2007; They were physically present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012; They are enrolled in school, have a high school diploma or a GED, or have been honorably discharged from the military or Coast Guard by the time of their application; And they have not been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor offense, or three or more other misdemeanors, and do not present a threat to national security or public safety. Unauthorized immigrants who meet these criteria may apply for a deferred action permit that shields them from deportation for two years and also may potentially qualify them for work authorization’ (qtd in Pew Research Center, 2012).
Since Obama’s executive action, Republicans have cried foul and declared that the action was unconstitutional and the courts have held the program in limbo for now. Even the Supreme Court of the United States was divided over the legality of the action.
While its impact will certainly be felt through all corridors of society, the repeal of this act will also have a profound and negative impact on the American church.
A church of immigrants
Over the last several years, the face of the American church is changing and becoming much more diverse. According to the Pew Forum in 2014, ‘Racial and ethnic minorities now make up … 24% of evangelical Protestants (up from 19% [in 2007]) and 14% of mainline Protestants (up from 9%).’ In a report done by Lifeway, small Hispanic Protestant churches are rapidly growing, and not just in transfers from other churches. ‘Among all church plants in the 2015 study, an average church saw 11 conversions in the first year, 14 in the second, 18 in the third and 17 in year four.’ (Lifeway, New Hispanic Churches Often Do More With Less).
Lifeway further explained that ‘Among the lead pastors of these churches, 94% are Hispanic and 80% are first-generation immigrants. Around 1 in 12 (8%) say they were born in the U.S., but one or both of their parents were born elsewhere, and 12% say both they and their parents were born in the U.S.’ They also confirmed a surprising trend that ‘around 4 in 10 attendees in new Hispanic works are completely unchurched or have been for many years. However, Hispanic churches are reaching a higher percentage of those who are completely unchurched (26% to 18%)’ (Lifeway).
Not only are small church plants growing in number but churches across Protestant lines are becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. So much so that the repeal of DACA has many in the American church speaking out against Trump’s actions. In 2017, Russell Moore initiated a group of evangelicals to sign a petition for Congress to provide protection for DACA recipients. ‘Many of these Dreamers have stepped forward in good faith, and our government has a moral obligation to deliver on the promises made to these men and women and protect them from perpetual uncertainty.’
Others have gone so far as to train as human barriers to prevent authorities from taking immigrants from their church buildings. The deportation of fellow believers would unnecessarily break up many churches from the pulpit to the pew. Please pray for your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who face uncertain days with the repeal of the DACA act.
Ben Wilkerson served with Sheffield Presbyterian Church, UK, and is a Christian writer residing in the USA.