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Photo: Edilsa A
Photo by Edilsa A

In 2010 the Christian Reformed Church synod called on the CRC to “advocate for laws that will mandate the just and humane treatment of immigrant peoples” and to speak out on behalf of those in detention, facing deportation, or living and working in fear.

On Sept. 5, President Trump announced an end to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama-era program that gave work permits and temporary protection from deportation to roughly 800,000 young immigrants who had been brought to the U.S. without having legal status.

When President Obama announced the program, he called on Congress to enact a lasting solution for Dreamers, which the president lacked the power to achieve. Critics of DACA called the executive action unconstitutional; advocates for Dreamers also criticized it for lacking permanence and exposing young immigrants’ lack of legal status without a guarantee of long-term protections.

But Congress has failed to take on this issue. Now, without the protections DACA offers, Congress is the best hope for Dreamers. Unless Congress acts within the next six months, DACA recipients will lose their jobs and could be deported.

Members of the CRC, troubled by this threat, are calling on Congress to enact the bipartisan Dream Act of 2017. The Office of Social Justice (OSJ), mandated by synod to work toward “increased opportunities for immigrants to gain legal status,” is providing education and opportunities for church members to be in direct contact with their lawmakers.

Instead of the temporary protection that DACA offered, the new Dream Act would give lawful permanent residence to those who meet its work and education criteria and eventually an opportunity for citizenship to those who wish to pursue it.

Liz Balck Monsma, a Grand Rapids, Mich. attorney who has provided legal services to many DACA applicants, says, “Unless our laws change, most children who were brought to the U.S. unlawfully will have no way to gain legal status. If they could have applied for a green card over the last five years, they would have. There is a pervasive myth that undocumented immigrants can simply ‘get their papers in order' if they wish to — but this is not true for DACA recipients or for the majority of the nation’s undocumented immigrants.

“For so many young DACA recipients, who have known only this country as their home, the threat of deportation to a country they do not know is devastating.”

This isn’t the CRC’s first time advocating for the Dream Act. A similar version passed through the U.S. House of Congress in the fall of 2010.

The OSJ’s Kate Kooyman recalls when she and other CRC members had several meetings and phone calls with U.S. Representative Vern Ehlers, their Republican congressman for West Michigan, about the issue of legal status for Dreamers. They urged him to support opportunities for legalization and explained their perspective as Christians.

Ehlers was reportedly undecided on the Dream Act but ultimately voted in favor of its passage. The bill passed the House but failed in the Senate in 2010. Kooyman says, “We’ve been asking for a long-term solution for almost a decade — and Congress could have done it all this time. When DACA was announced, it was clearly a short-term, ‘band-aid’ solution. So we didn’t cheer; we asked for the Dream Act.”

Because of the history of the Dream Act repeatedly failing in Congress, many immigrant advocates have grave concerns regarding President Trump’s ending of DACA without a clear path forward. Others hope the six-month deadline will encourage a long-term solution to be achieved.

Kelsey Herbert, immigration mobilizer for the CRC’s Office of Social Justice, says, “Rescinding the program without legislation in place puts the burden of an unknown future squarely on young immigrants. If we see this from their perspective — the ones most affected by this — then rescinding DACA is devastating. I hope Congress does now feel the urgency to solve this longstanding problem. I think it’s unfortunate that young immigrants had to be placed in this incredibly stressful situation for Congress to finally feel it.”

Danielle Chun, OSJ Mobilizing and Advocacy Fellow, adds, “We would like to see the President use his influence to encourage members of Congress to pass a clean Dream Act in both chambers by the end of the year.”

Christy Carlin Knetsch, a youth director at Madison Square CRC, Grand Rapids, Mich., said that she plans to share OSJ’s advocacy resources with her congregation. “The CRC has students and young professionals in our congregations whose lives changed when they received DACA. And now their hopeful future is under threat.

“That is a threat to all of us, because this injustice is connected to the flourishing of everyone in our communities. So we pray, and we bear one another's burdens, and those of us who have it will use the power of our citizenship to demand that immigrants — like all of God's people — are treated with dignity."