The Dreamers have won the hearts of most all Americans — across our political boundaries — whose country they joined when they were just children and who are clearly Americans too.
There is enormous public support for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) from the American people. According to a poll released by CBS News last week, “nearly 9 in 10 Americans (87%) favor allowing young immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally as children to remain in the U.S.” This number includes 79 percent of Republicans, 92 percent of Democrats, and 87 percent of independents who favor the policy.
The DACA program, which is designed to shield from deportation undocumented Americans who were brought to this country by their parents, was established by President Obama in 2012 and ended by President Trump in September. Congress has tried and failed for the last 17 years to pass legislation that would formally confer legal status on these young men and women.
Because of President Trump’s decision, about 800,000 Dreamers currently protected by DACA will be at risk of deportation in early March unless Congress passes legislation and the president signs it by then. That’s why Democrats and some Republican members of Congress have felt such urgency to finally pass permanent legal protection for the Dreamers. Until the issue is resolved legislatively, it is likely to dominate the political debates in Washington in the weeks to come.
Dreamers are essential members of our communities. As politicians play games with their futures, it’s important that we share their stories. They are Dreamers like Mauricio Lopez-Marquez, who is 28 years old and was able to become a social worker after receiving DACA. In that role and as a dance instructor for an after-school program, he works with 180 young people in New Mexico. They are Dreamers like 22-year-old Teresa Rivera, who is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a part-time child facilitator at an organization that supports women and children who have experienced domestic violence. They are Dreamers like Zabdi Samuel Olvera, 18, who was brought from Mexico to Charlotte, N.C., at 6 months old, and is currently majoring in computer science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Zabdi’s work with underprivileged children in South Charlotte and his excellence on his varsity wrestling team earned him a Golden Door Scholarship, which provides a full-tuition scholarship that is making it possible for him to earn his degree. If Congress does not pass legislation to protect the Dreamers by early March, these young men and women and so many more will be unable to work legally in the United States and could be vulnerable to deportation.
In 2012 many Dreamers had the opportunity to step out of the shadows and participate fully in the economy in ways that were previously impossible. They have done so, however, at great risk: In exchange for legal protection, they had to provide their personal information to the government. And now, unless Congress acts, the government could use that information to find and deport them. This is not a tenable moral or political position, and the public support for a permanent DACA fix reflects that. Americans understand that the Dreamers are our children’s teachers, they work in our communities, and they serve their country in all kinds of ways, including the military.
It is also undeniable that churches across the theological and political spectrum of American Christianity have been steadfast in support for the Dreamers. Even among white evangelicals, the base of Donald Trump’s support, 57 percent favor protection for Dreamers. This support comes from biblical commands about how we should treat “the stranger” among us, a religiously inspired sense of what is moral and just, and the fact that many Dreamers and their families are members of our church communities —and even our pastors. As I’ve written many times before, the biblical command to protect immigrants is unambiguous, and that certainly informs how many Christians approach this issue. But the human stories are perhaps even more influential in changing minds and hearts. Indeed, many churchgoers have discovered over the last five years that people they know well and care for deeply are undocumented because DACA gave them the incentive to step out of the shadows. Now, congregations all over the country are facing the possibility that many families in their midst will soon be torn apart. That is justifiably causing righteous outrage and determination for Christians all over the country to stand beside Dreamers and demand a solution from Congress.
Yet the problem, as it has been for many years, is to translate the strong public support for protecting Dreamers to actual policy change. The roughly 10-20 percent of Americans who do not support protecting the Dreamers in any way have long had a hugely outsized influence on our politics. Gerrymandered white Republican districts led to a wave of radical anti-immigration restrictionists in the House. That trend, of course, continued through the 2016 election, when hardline immigration opponents got perhaps their greatest champion in recent memory in the White House with President Donald Trump. While he has been very inconsistent on DACA, he has consistently elevated and empowered immigration hardliners in his administration — those who appeal to his white nationalist base.
We don’t know how this fight will ultimately turn out, but we do know two things. First, we know that the right thing for Christians to do is to fight — and fight hard — for Dreamers until they get the permanent protection they need, and continue fighting for their parents and the many other undocumented people living among us. These are the people Jesus literally commands us to treat as we would treat him.
Second, we know that since an overly influential group of hardline anti-immigration White House officials and politicians in Congress are blocking both the will of the overwhelming majority of the American people and what God wants, we must defeat them at the ballot box. There are fundamental Christian issues that cause Christians to vote against political candidates — and being opposed to immigrants should become one of those issues. We need to ensure that the fate of the Dreamers and other undocumented Americans is a voting issue for Christians this November and beyond.