People of faith and other advocates across the country are calling for a permanent fix for the 800,000 young people at risk of losing their DACA status if Congress doesn’t reach a deal soon. In one Santa Fe, N.M., congregation, those calls are coming from the youth group.
“We believe immigration authorities should not be allowed to do as they please with young people who grew up here, went to the same schools we do, have the same dreams, and are just like us,” reads an op-ed in the Santa Fe New Mexican, penned by a group of 13-15-year-olds in the second year of their Youth Initiation to Adulthood program — the United Church of Santa Fe’s version of a confirmation program.
Rev. Talitha Arnold, the church’s senior minister, said the idea for the op-ed came as the group was deciding what to do for Martin Luther King Jr. Day — and in the wake of the President Trump’s expletive-laden comments about El Salvador, Haiti, and African countries.
“Given that many of United's children and youth — and their parents — come from some of those countries and that our kids go to school with youth from around the world, such statements are not abstract but deeply personal,” Arnold said. “Writing the letter together was a way for the Youth Initiates to express their faith and care, while taking positive action.”
Pam Hyde, one of the group’s mentors, said they together read through the parts of the Bible that mention how society is to treat immigrants, and their responses comprised the op-ed.
To send today’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or Dreamers back to a country and to a language they do not know, where they do not have family or friends to help them, is not right. That story would be one of shock, horror and despair for them and for us.
… Our faith calls on us to do justice and to treat immigrants as citizens and love them as ourselves. We do not want our country to go back to the days of segregation where people are treated unfairly and discriminated against because of race, color or other differences. Dreamers and other immigrants are welcome to our church, our schools and our community.
“All those words are theirs; I was just the scribe,” Hyde said.
As part of the two-year Youth Initiation program, the teens last spring took part in a five-day immersion trip to the Arizona-Sonora border. While there, the group visited the existing border fence, learned about the wall’s environmental impact, sat through immigration court as a group of mostly young men faced deportation, and walked the trails immigrants travel to come to the U.S.
“You find the backpacks and you see the baby diapers and see all kinds of things … it makes it very human to them and they get how hard that must be,” Hyde said.
The United Church of Santa Fe, part of the United Church of Christ, has an immigration task force that determines how best to utilize their resources to help the movement. Arnold said while United's structure isn't set up to provide shelter, the congregation financially supports an Albuquerque, N.M., church offering sanctuary to an Iraqi man who worked as a linguist with the U.S. military.
Arnold said the Youth Initiation program, which she helped to develop, offers a variety of ways for the teens to engage their faith — from giving testimony from their time along the border, to leading Maundy Thursday service, to participating in regular river cleanups and volunteering at the local interfaith homeless shelter. She said she hopes it offers a holistic view of what it means to be a person of faith.
“It’s trying to help [the students] see this biblical story is also their story and their story is also God’s story,” Arnold said. “… Jesus was a refugee. The Bible is not just something that happened just 2,000 years ago, but it’s happening here and now.”