As a Christian and a mobilizer for the National Immigration Forum, I spent much of August hosting teams of faith and community leaders in visits with their congressional members. The goal; encourage Texas legislators to act with justice and mercy by protecting DREAMers for the good of Texas and our nation.
“DREAMers” are those million plus young people brought here, to the United States, as young children by families or as unaccompanied children, over the past 30 years. These children attended school and church with our children, spoke English, and held the same hopes and dreams for their futures as ours. Many were unaware of their citizenship status until they approached the age of applying for a driver’s license or making an application for college. Upon learning that they did not have the same citizenship status as their friends and neighbors, their dreams to attend universities with their classmates were denied. Families, who brought their children here for a better life, instilled Christian values, work ethics, and a focus on education, then realized their children were experiencing disappointment, shame and fear as they began to understand their lost potential. A heart-break for thousands of families that worked hard in our fields, built our homes, cared for our families, and launched small businesses. They sought relief for their children through churches, business leaders, and attorneys, only to discover there were no options for righting the wrong.
Appeals by communities that knew these families and their children, sought a solution to fix the broken immigration system. President Bush and then President Obama encouraged Congress to find a bi-partisan solution. After another failed attempt to move immigration reform through Congress, President Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) provided a stop gap solution. DACA gave these young adults a chance to come out of hiding, register with the US Customs and Immigration Services, undergo a background check, and if approved, move forward with their lives. Approximately 800,000 risked all, registered and began living their lives. For the first time, they could legally attend college, work and live productive lives without fear of being deported to a country they had never known as home.
In Texas, DACA has provided over 124,000 young adults to advance their education and contribute to the economy with employment that matched their education and training. In late August, Mariam Hernandez joined us in the meeting with Congressman Bill Flores. Because of DACA, Mariam completed her Masters in Social Work from Baylor University and started her first job in early childhood intervention at Klaras Center for Families, a project of the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services in Waco. The group also included Pastor Tim Moore, Evangelical Immigration Table; Ziara Garcia, Texas Coordinator for FWD.us; Hope Mustakim, whose two-year-old son receives services from Klaras Center, also representing Refugee Council USA; Jimmy Dorrell, Mission Waco and founder of the Texas Christian Community Development Network; Tony Abad, CEO of Alluvium CAD and former President of GOPisforme.com, Rucker Preston, Executive Director for the TxCCDN, and myself.
Our meeting with Congressman Flores set forth a priority discussion about the critical need for Congress to provide a legislative solution for DREAMers this fall, to ensure they do not face deportation if the Trump administration rescinds DACA. Such solutions include the bipartisan Dream Act of 2017, introduced in the Senate and House, and the Recognizing America’s Children (RAC) Act, introduced in the House. Bills such as these would allow young DREAMers to earn permanent legalized status, and eventual citizenship if they speak English, have no criminal record and have significant work history and / or go to school or enlist in the military.
Congressman Flores understands the value immigrants bring to Texas and the United States, and as a Christian he also recognizes the Evangelical Immigration Table’s Principles for Immigration Reform. Those principles call for an immigration system that: respects the God-given dignity of every person, protects the unity of immediate family, respects the rule of law, guarantees secure national borders, ensures fairness to taxpayers, and establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and wish to become permanent residents.
Today, should the Trump administration rescind DACA, DREAMers will be subject to deportation, just like every other undocumented immigrant. While we thought only violent criminals, “bad hombres”, as President Trump called them, were the priority for deportation. However, there is no priority system and every undocumented immigrant in America, is a priority according to acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Thomas Homan.
For decades now, DREAMers have been victims of a broken immigration system and pawns in partisan political maneuvering. As Christians, we must oppose injustice and speak out for changes in immigration laws to benefit American workers, churches, families, and communities.
Brenda Kirk is the South Central Mobilizer for Bibles Badges and Business and a TxCCDN member with the National Immigration Reform.