By Jenny Yang
Liz Dong is a friend of mine who works for World Relief who has bravely shared her story as an undocumented immigrant living in the United States. She immigrated to the United States with her parents, and when her mom filed her immigration paperwork, the lawyer forgot to attach Liz’s paperwork to her mom’s. Since then, Liz has been living as an undocumented immigrant, but successfully made her way through school and is now a graduate student at the University of Chicago.
Liz is representative of the approximately 1.8 million individuals in the United States, otherwise known as Dreamers, who do not have any legal status because they were brought into the United States by their parents illegally or overstayed their visa. Their status has been a point of debate in our country, with Congress failing to enact legislation that would allow these individuals a pathway for earned legalization to stay in the country they’ve always called home.
On June 15th, 2012, President Obama made a historic decision that changed the lives of Dreamers by allowing thousands of individuals who were brought to the United States as immigrant children to remain in the United States without fear of deportation. He said, “Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine you’ve done everything right your entire life -- studied hard, worked hard, maybe even graduated at the top of your class -- only to suddenly face the threat of deportation to a country that you know nothing about, with a language that you may not even speak.”
The creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program allowed Dreamers to be de-prioritized for deportation and obtain temporary work authorization for a period of two years, subject to renewal. They had to meet certain criteria and not have a criminal record. Since the start of the program, nearly 800,000 individuals received DACA status.
However, President Trump was clear on the campaign trail and during the first year of his administration that he wanted to end the DACA program. And on September 5th, 2017, Attorney General Sessions announced the termination of the program, saying the DACA decision by President Obama led to a “surge of unaccompanied minors on the southern border that yielded terrible humanitarian consequences” and “denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans.”
The ending of the DACA program effective March 5th, 2018 meant that the burden was on Congress to pass a permanent legislative fix to help Dreamers in this country. And repeatedly, Congress has failed to act. In the last effort, during the week of February 12th, the Senate voted on four bills that would have offered some pathway to legalization for Dreamers, with a combination of border security, cuts to family-based immigration, and more stringent immigration enforcement in general. However, all these bills failed to pass.
The level of fear and insecurity in our country felt by vulnerable immigrant communities is real and palpable and has increased significantly over the past year. The termination of DACA coincides with several other policy decisions over 2017 and 2018 that have left thousands of individuals vulnerable and afraid. This includes the termination of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Salvadorans, Nicaraguans, Haitians and Sudanese. In addition, the refugee ceiling was set at a historic low at 45,000 for FY18, with the U.S. on track to resettle just 20,000 refugees this fiscal year. As a case in point, only 5 Syrian refugees have been welcomed to the United States in 2018 at a time when the conflict in Syria rages on. Also, the President vowed to veto any legislative solution on immigration that did not reflect his proposal to cut legal immigration by 44%.
The stringent White House immigration position, and Congress’ failure to act, means that millions continue to live in insecurity and fear. But the church has not been silent. Last year, Voices of Christian Dreamers was created by a group of Christian Dreamers to provide a distinctively Christian advocacy platform focused on sharing stories, shaping public opinion, and influencing Congress. This statement by a group of prominent Southern Baptist leaders also powerfully makes the case that “Dreamers deserve to be recognized as our fellow Americans.”
World Relief published a full-page ad on February 7th in the Washington Post that asked the President and Congress to work together to pass a legislative solution for Dreamers in the country. In just a few weeks, the letter garnered over 3,000 signatures with church leaders from every state supporting immigrants in the United States. We released the letter in a press conference with Senator James Lankford (R-OK) and Senator Angus King (I-ME) asking for Congress to act in support of Dreamers immediately.
This Monday, March 5th was the date that the DACA program was due to expire, but a decision by the courts ruled that DACA status cannot be revoked.
In the meantime, there are 3 specific things that you can do:
1) Pray- A prayer guide is available as a resource to help you pray for immigrants in our country. Pull a group of your friends together to pray. You can also sign up for this ThunderClap, which is a pre-programmed tweet or Facebook post that will go live on Monday that will encourage folks to pray on Monday and will invite them to sign up for monthly prayer partner email.
1) Call Congress- Proverbs 3:27 reminds us to “not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.” We are asking individuals to make calls to Congress as part of our “Power to Act” Challenge. You can input your information here, and a call will be made to your phone that will connect you to your Members of Congress. Please ask them to support a legislative solution for Dreamers.
2) Serve your immigrant neighbors- World Relief has 20 U.S. offices that serve immigrants and refugees, and there are many other organizations that similarly serve immigrants in your communities. Get connected and volunteer your time and resources to welcome your newest neighbor!
Jenny Yang is a faculty member at Kilns College and teaches "Case Studies in Theology & Justice". She also provides oversight for all advocacy initiatives and policy positions at World Relief. She has worked in the Resettlement section of World Relief as the Senior Case Manager and East Asia Program Officer, where she focused on advocacy for refugees in the East Asia region and managed the entire refugee caseload for World Relief. Prior to World Relief, she worked at one of the largest political fundraising firms in Maryland managing fundraising and campaigning for local politicians. She is co-author of "Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate", serves as Chair of the Refugee Council USA (RCUSA) Africa Work Group, and was named one of the “50 Women to Watch” by Christianity Today.