The Supreme Court’s refusal to fast-track a Donald Trump administration appeal related to immigration has given Congress more time to resolve the fate of undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.
In response to the high court’s action, Southern Baptists with an eye to the legislative process have urged prayer that Congress will act justly and offered a variety of legislative proposals.
“Everybody is tossing this [issue] back to Congress,” said Mark Harris, who resigned the pastorate of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., last year to run for the U.S. House of Representatives. “… At the end of the day, it’s Congress that’s got to pass laws.”
After a federal district judge in California blocked the Trump administration from ending former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the current administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its appeal immediately and forego the normal appeals process through the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California.
The Supreme Court denied that request Feb. 26 in a two-sentence order, concluding, “It is assumed that the Court of Appeals will proceed expeditiously to decide this case.”
In the meantime, Trump’s March 5 deadline for Congress to send him legislation on the category of undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers appears moot. The California federal judge’s order – and a similar order by a New York federal judge – block the administration from ending DACA while courts consider legal challenges to the president’s action.
Mike Whitehead, general counsel for the Missouri Baptist Convention, told Baptist Press (BP) in written comments, “The intermediate courts of appeals are there for a purpose, and the Supreme Court has declined to make an exception here. It may take several months to get a final decision from the Ninth Circuit, and then the president will have the opportunity to make his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the court of ‘last resort.’ They will still have discretion whether or not to hear it.”
It is “totally predictable,” Whitehead said, that the “always-liberal Ninth Circuit” will rule against the Trump administration.
By the time the case reaches the Supreme Court again, “there may have been a political compromise which will make this particular appeal moot,” Whitehead said.
Thus far, Congress has failed to reach a compromise regarding hundreds of thousands of Dreamers currently in the U.S.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told BP “it is well past time for both the White House and Congress to stop playing politics with God-imaging human lives and fix this.”
“Thousands of young men and women who have only ever known the United States as home wake up every morning fearing the loss of their livelihoods and in some cases the splitting apart of their families,” Moore said in written comments. “Even with this recent decision in the Supreme Court, both this fear and imminent threat remain for many. The greatest shame is that all of this chaos and uncertainty is totally avoidable. The overwhelming majority of American people agree on both the problem and solution when it comes to Dreamers.”
Felix Cabrera, co-founder of the Hispanic Baptist Pastors Alliance, told BP the injunction against ending DACA March 5 is “a huge relief to many in my congregation and throughout the country.” But he expressed concern some Dreamers still could find themselves without authorization to work legally while their DACA renewal applications are processed.
“And, long-term, there’s not really a debate about whether the executive branch (which created DACA) can end it – just a legal argument about the way that the administration terminated the program,” Cabrera, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Central in Oklahoma City, said in written comments. “Since sooner or later DACA will go away, I pray that Congress and the White House do not see this [Supreme Court] decision as an excuse to do nothing or to delay.
“I hope they will return to the negotiation table quickly and pass legislation on a bipartisan basis that between 85 percent and 90 percent of Americans say they support, allowing Dreamers to stay securely and permanently in the country, contributing to the country they consider their home,” Cabrera said.
Harris, who is running for Congress in North Carolina’s ninth district, said conservatives in Washington generally want to pair legal status for Dreamers with enhanced border security while liberals generally want to deal with DACA in isolation. President Trump, Harris noted, has offered a proposal that includes border security, legal status for Dreamers and changes to two legal immigration programs.
The bill with the “best chance” to pass Congress, Harris said, may be a measure to extend DACA for two or three years while a long-term immigration bill is negotiated. “But I don’t think a lot of people have the political will for that either,” he said.
Christians should pray, Harris said, for political leaders “to recognize the emergency we’re in” and “rely upon God’s wisdom for a solution.”
Messengers to the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix approved a resolution on immigration reform that called for the advancement of the gospel of Jesus while pursuing justice and compassion. The measure urged the government to make a priority of border security and hold businesses accountable in their hiring. It also requested that public officials establish after securing the borders “a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country.” It specified the resolution was not to be interpreted as supporting amnesty.
The resolution acknowledged immigration reform “has prompted often-rancorous debate in the American public square.” Action on the resolution demonstrated the different views Southern Baptists hold on how to address the immigration problem. During consideration of the resolution, an amendment to remove the paragraph regarding establishment of a “path to legal status” failed in a ballot vote of 51-48 percent.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)