“If you don’t qualify for a piece of paper…in the eyes of the public and the immigration system, you’re not human. That to me is the heartbreaking part.” Julio Salgado, Dreamer. Time Magazine, September 18, 2017.
What You Need to Know About DACA – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals
As of September 5th, nearly 800,000 young people who were brought to this country as children have lost the protection of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (known as DACA), effective March 2018.
DACA never provided access to legal permanent residency or citizenship. It merely delayed deportation proceedings and provided temporary work permits for a group of young people who had been invested in through our public education system and who wanted to return the investment by working and contributing to our society while our government attempted to resolve the problem of an ineffective, illogical and inhumane immigration system. (To clarify, the 1995 immigration legislation requires people who have been in the US for over a year without legal permission to return to their home countries for 10 years before they can be considered for legal immigration status—even if they are married to a US citizen or petitioned by a US employer. This means that those brought here as children are essentially barred from standing in the normal immigration lines. Congress has been trying unsuccessfully to figure out how to address that glitch for years through various Dream Act proposals, as well as attempting to address other equally problematic aspects of the immigration system. DACA was intended to protect these young people while Congress struggles with these issues.)
The requirements for DACA included education or military service. The program was only available to people who had arrived as minors during a certain time period and did not have a history of serious criminal behavior.
DACA recipients are often referred to as “Dreamers” since DACA has allowed many of them to pursue the realization of their dreams—typically some version of the traditional American Dream of becoming a productive and successful member of society.
I Was A Stranger and You Welcomed Me
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Matthew 25:34-36
In Matthew 25, Jesus equates our treatment of the stranger with our response to him. What does it mean to respond to these young Dreamers, in this historic moment, as if they were Jesus?
I have been engaged in immigrant ministry and consequently have had to deal with the human costs of our broken immigration system for over 30 years. I had the privilege of participating in the Central American Sanctuary movement of the 1980’s and co-founding the New Sanctuary Movement in 2006, the Evangelical Immigration Table in 2011, the Guardian Angels Project (to accompany children and youth fleeing violence in Central America in the courts) in 2014, and Matthew 25 (a bipartisan movement to protect and defend the vulnerable in the name of Jesus) in January. Through these experiences, I would like to offer some guidance on how churches can minister to and with the Dreamers at this time.
Four Ways Churches Can Assist Dreamers
1. Minister to government leaders by advocating for biblically-based public policy
We lost DACA. But there is still opportunity for a legislative solution.
It will not be easy. Even though polls repeatedly show that over 90% of Americans support the creation of a path to legalization for these children and youth, the calls to legislators about every version of the Dream Act have been 10 to 1 against the DACA policy, making it impossible politically to pass the bills. How can there be such a stark difference between the high level of public, bipartisan support for DACA seen in the surveys and the lack of support shown by phone calls?
It’s quite simple: the average American never calls their member of Congress if legislation is unlikely to affect them personally.
Dreamers calling on their own behalf are not a large enough population to make a difference. The majority of calls to legislators are coming from the small but vocal population who see all undocumented immigrants as a critical threat to their well-being. They call repeatedly.
What is the one institution that is mandated to care passionately about people who are not “us”? If the Church does not care passionately about all people, we are not following Jesus Christ.
The gift of democracy is that all members of our society have the right to participate in the process of public decision-making. In fact, a democracy does not function if the people do not participate. The unique call of Christians in a democracy is to urge our representatives to respond to God’s call on their lives and to make decisions that are pleasing to Him. They need encouragement—this biblically-based word refers to a message spoken to give disciples the courage to do what is right even if they are frightened of the reaction. If we are not raising our voices on behalf of the Dreamers, what voices will our representatives be hearing? If we aren't raising our voices on behalf of Dreamers, what voices will our representatives hear? Click To Tweet
In Ezekiel 33:6, we read, “if the sentinel sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any of them, they are taken away in their iniquity but their blood I will require at the sentinel’s hand.”
Over 92% of Congress claims Christ. If we do not warn our brothers and sisters that God’s judgment is on those who do not care for the stranger, and if they do nothing to keep these little ones from stumbling, who will be held responsible?
One more note: this issue is not partisan. We have had legislators from both parties who actively support an equitable and compassionate solution to the predicament of the Dreamers. However, the fate of the Dreamers may be held hostage in the partisan battles. There is already one bipartisan legislative proposal; let our leaders know that we support this kind of initiative.
2. Show up and offer presence to Dreamers and their families
Dreamers and their families are traumatized. They feel rejected and devalued. They need powerful experiences of the love of God which proclaims the good news that they are so valuable, Jesus died for them.
Dreamers are in immigrant churches. They are in organizations. They are in student groups. If you do not already know Dreamers, partner with the churches and organizations who they trust to help provide emotional and practical support, privately and publicly. Show that you care by:
- showing up with your resources—funding for legal assistance or counseling are huge needs.
- individual advocacy with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Write support letters, make phone calls, be present at public prayer vigils in front of the ICE offices when it is time for their check-ins.
- attend workshops to learn about Dreamer’s legal rights and options. A variety of immigrant groups and organizations will be holding these. Attend and publicize those workshops.
When immigrant and non-immigrant believers are publicly united, John 17:21 becomes real; the world knows that Jesus has come because of the unity of His followers.
When immigrant and non-immigrant believers are united, we experience the exchange of hope and passion. Immigrants feel hope because they are not alone. Non-immigrants feel passion because someone they know and love is threatened. This exchange of hope and passion can fuel the sustained efforts—in education, advocacy and support—necessary to achieve our goals.
Matthew 25 is a loose association of believers who are committed to working together across the lines. For more information about how to start a Matthew 25 association, you may want to check out matthew25pledge.org or matthew25socal.org. When immigrant & non-immigrant believers are publicly united, the world knows Jesus has come. Click To Tweet
3. Offer Sanctuary
Sanctuary is an ancient biblical instruction for a situation in which someone has violated a law but the punishment is unjust. Numbers 35:9-15 speaks to a context in which someone has committed manslaughter (killed another accidentally) but he/she is being treated as if was an intentional killing – a murder. In this case, the people of God are instructed to create “Cities of Refuge” where the offender can stay until it is possible to receive a fair hearing.
Churches have always offered sanctuary when appropriate—from the underground railroad to the refugee influx from Central America in the 1980’s. Currently, ICE has a policy known as the “sensitive zones” which prohibits them from entering a house of worship unless they have a judicial warrant for a non-immigration-related offense. Dreamers may choose to enter sanctuary if a church is willing to provide it.
Sanctuary is truly a last resort; in most cases, it is essentially endless house arrest. However, it can be an effective way to publicize a story and change hearts and minds, as well as provide some level of temporary protection from deportation. If a congregation is interested in exploring sanctuary, toolkits and advice are available at sanctuarynotdeportation.org.
It is also an option to quietly provide Christian hospitality for a temporary period to someone who is moving from one area to another. If you would provide hospitality for a non-immigrant, you can legally provide it for an immigrant. Again, this is not a good solution in most cases. Many Dreamers have worked hard to achieve their dreams and this quiet change of location can mean abandoning all of their accomplishments and hopes.
By the time that the Berlin Wall fell, a million people were regularly praying on street corners every evening. It may take that kind of sustained prayer in order to see real change. In whatever form you can dedicate yourself to pray for Dreamers, for their families, for our legislative leaders, for the Church, and for the shalom of our communities, please do.
This is not a sprint; it is a marathon. As my friend Rene August from South Africa says, “the difference between a sprint and a marathon is how you breathe.” It will take sustained prayer in order to see real change. Click To Tweet
Whichever activity you carry out to minister with and to the Dreamers, know that you are not alone. Whenever two or more of us are gathering in the name of Jesus, He is with us. In this difficult and painful time, we need more than ever to remind ourselves of this truth.
Join Rev. Alexia Salvatierra at the SheLeads Summit on October 28. She is the co-author of Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World, IV Press, and a Lutheran pastor with over 35 years of experience in community ministry. In addition to coordinating the Guardian Angels Network for the Southwest California Synod of the ELCA, she currently serves as a consultant for World Vision USA/World Vision International/Women of Vision, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and the Christian Community Development Association. She has been a national leader in the areas of working poverty and immigration for over 20 years, including the co-founding of the Evangelical Immigration Table.