Imagine that you were brought to the United States when you were 12. When you applied for college years later, you learned that you did not qualify for federal assistance because you were undocumented. In 2012, President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that made it possible for you to stay and pursue your education without fear of deportation.
But last week you held your breath in anticipation of President Obama’s announcement. With the two-year program up for renewal, you wondered if you would be allowed to stay.
You let out a sigh of relief when you heard the answer is yes. The president’s three step plan includes increased border security, a streamlined legal immigration system, and the expansion of deferred action. DACA will be expanded, eliminating the age limit which was capped at 30 and allowing more recent arrivals to qualify. It also proposes a temporary deferral of deportation for adults who have been in the U.S. at least 5 years, undergo a background check, and have children in the U.S who are citizens or legal permanent residents. The plan that the president laid out does not include direct support for parents of DACA recipients or for more recent arrivals to the country.
The Migration Policy Institute estimates that over five million undocumented immigrants will be eligible to apply for the executive action. But there are still nearly six million undocumented immigrants who are not included. These are the people who need continued support from the community at large as they face deportation hearings and barriers to fundamental needs.
Now imagine that you, the undocumented DREAMer, qualify for Obama’s new executive action. However your mother, who fled an abusive relationship in Mexico and worked long hours at two jobs to send you to college, will not be covered under the program because you, her child, are not a legal resident or citizen. Your mother will likely be deported back into the violent situation she fled from.
Regardless of where you fall on the issue, Christians can offer a unique response to the DREAM Act and DACA debate, one that works to affirm the dignity and basic rights of our neighbors. Families should be kept together and immigrant children should be given the same opportunities as their citizen neighbors.
One example of a group caring for students is Mennonite Church USA, which offers a scholarship program for DREAMers to help to alleviate the cost of college tuition for those who can’t qualify for in-state tuition.
Another response is Sanctuary 2014, which is a collection of churches that have opened up their doors to offer asylum to immigrants facing deportation. The original Sanctuary movement was started in the 1980s to address civil war in Central America. Like its predecessor, Sanctuary 2014 aims to preserve families, especially in cases where adults have US citizen children whom they would be separated from if they were deported.
It is important for Christians to recognize their responsibility to immigrants, even when the government doesn’t act on their behalf. It is not solely government’s responsibility to provide justice to these groups. The public square is comprised of multiple institutions and each one has a unique role to play. They can support each other in providing justice, but ultimately each is required to fill its own responsibilities.
First there is a obligation to preserve the family whenever possible. Sanctuary 2014 aims to do this, recognizing the importance of an intact family unit. Family reunification is a major concern for MCC and other faith organizations whom they work with. But preserving the family is not the only issue.
Community also plays an important role in the immigration debate, and this includes secular and religious community groups. Churches can provide services which help keep families together and which minister to the spiritual needs of immigrants. Other groups can provide services to immigrants in the way of counseling, basic needs, and more.
The government also plays a role, which is perhaps the most visible. Congress has a responsibility to pass just legislation which will help and not degrade immigrant populations. When this doesn’t happen, the president has a responsibility to take action. The DREAM Act and DACA are important steps in the right direction.
The government must also work to address root causes of immigration. People don’t just wake up one day and decide to illegally enter the country. It is a decision they make when they feel there is no alternative.
The US government is in a unique position to work with foreign governments to fix broken systems in the countries immigrants come from. Violence and persecution are factors which play into decisions to immigrate to the US. Congress and the president have a responsibility to work with other governments on these issues.
Immigration reform does not make living conditions better in other countries, and people will continue to come to the U.S. Addressing underlying causes should be a part of any immigration reform efforts, and U.S. citizens should demand this of their elected officials. We must work together as members of families, communities, and government to ensure that immigration reform is comprehensive and beneficial to as many of our neighbors as possible.
-Kaitlyn Stump is a senior at Malone University in Canton, OH.