The Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) ethics entity called for prompt congressional action after a federal court halted a program that has prevented the deportation of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.
Andrew Hanen, a federal judge in Houston, ruled July 16 the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program violates U.S. law by supplanting the authority of Congress regarding immigration. Hanen’s order does not affect current DACA recipients nor prohibit applications, but it forbids approval of any requests to enter the program.
The decision stops a program established by a 2012 executive order from President Barack Obama to protect undocumented immigrants who arrived in this country before their 16th birthday. DACA provides a two-year window of protection from deportation and makes participants eligible for benefits that included permission to work.
A legislative remedy for the problem of under-age, undocumented immigrants commonly referred to as Dreamers – a label that stems from the name of a bill introduced to protect this category – has never received approval from both the Senate and House of Representatives in the same session since it was first introduced in 2001. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reported there were more than 616,000 active DACA recipients at the end of March.
“Once again, government inaction is hurting individuals,” said Daniel Patterson, acting president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), in written comments released by the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT). “This court decision confirms that a fair and just [legislative] solution for our broken immigration system is needed immediately.
“Too many immigrants live needlessly in constant fear,” Patterson said. “It doesn’t have to be this way. Christians must not waver in pleading the case for these fellow image-bearers.”
As a member of EIT, the ERLC has supported for several years a permanent, legislative solution for this group of undocumented immigrants.
Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, said in the EIT news release, “As Hispanic Evangelicals who know first hand the contributions of [Dreamers] we lament this decision impacting thousands of God’s children and call for immediate bipartisan action” in Congress.
President Joe Biden described Hanen’s ruling as “deeply disappointing” and said the Department of Justice would appeal it. In a written statement, Biden reiterated “with the greatest urgency” his call for Congress to pass legislation to solve the problem. On his first day in office in January, Biden issued a memorandum to maintain and strengthen DACA.
In his 77-page opinion in favor of the challenge by Texas and eight other states, Hanen ruled the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) in creating DACA. The APA governs the manner in which federal agencies establish and issue rules.
Congress “has not given DHS the power to implement DACA,” Hanen wrote. Since DACA was implemented, Congress “has continued to consider and reject proposals to protect a DACA-like population,” the judge wrote. “The Executive Branch cannot just enact its own legislative policy when it disagrees with [Congress’] choice to reject proposed legislation.”
The Trump administration rescinded DACA, but the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the action in June 2020, ruling the action was “arbitrary and capricious” under the APA. The high court said the administration may revoke DACA but the manner it did so in 2017 failed the procedural requirements of federal law.
The effort to provide a solution for Dreamers is only one of many issues involved in reforming America’s immigration system. An estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants are in the United States, but efforts to enact a comprehensive measure have failed.
In 2011 and 2018, messengers to the SBC’s annual meeting adopted resolutions on immigration reform that called for securing the border and establishing “a just and compassionate path to legal status,” with restitutionary measures, for undocumented immigrants already in the United States.
Nearly three-fourths of Americans support granting legal status to undocumented immigrants brought across the border as children, according to a June 2020 survey by the Pew Research Center. The poll showed 74% of Americans favor granting legal status, while 24% oppose it. By political party, 91% of Democrats and 54% of Republicans are in favor.
The House passed in a 228-197 roll call in March a bill to place Dreamers on a path to permanent resident status if they meet specific requirements, such as passing a background check and achieving a certain educational level or serving in the U.S. military.
In the Senate, Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., has introduced the Dream Act, with Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina as the lead Republican sponsor. Durbin first proposed in 2001 the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which resulted in those covered by the measure being known as Dreamers.
The new measure, Durbin said, would permit Dreamers to gain legal status and eventually citizenship if they meet such requirements as a particular educational status, lawful employment for a minimum of three years or U.S. military service; passage of a background check and no record of a felony or other serious crime; and an ability to speak English.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)