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Congress, We Are Not Giving You a Pass: Protect Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Now

Congress must "pass legislation that permanently protects the foreign-born children of illegal immigrants," writes Rev. Samuel Rodríguez.
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the largest Hispanic Christian organization in the world. With over 40,000 Latino Evangelical churches as members, NHCLC/CONEL helps to cultivate a network of Latino leaders in the Christian community. He has been named by CNN and Fox News as “the leader of the Hispanic Evangelical movement” and TIME Magazine nominated him among the 100 most influential leaders in America.

Following a closed-door meeting last Wednesday between the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and DHS Secretary John Kelly, it’s apparent that the future of DACA is in serious jeopardy because of congressional gridlock.

Established by executive order in 2012 by President Obama—and continued until now by President Trump—DACA prevents deportation for hundreds of thousands of young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children by their parents.

Secretary Kelly’s comments come after officials from Texas—and 10 other states—warned Attorney General Jeff Sessions that they will sue the federal government if DACA is not rescinded by Sept. 5 of this year. As DHS spokesman David Lapan said to reporters, “This is what [Sec. Kelly] is being told by different attorneys, that if it goes to court it might not survive.”

The forceful removal and deportation of Dreamers is, and has always been, an issue that defies the timeless American value of upholding and protecting families. It is also something my Christian convictions compel me to vehemently oppose. To separate mothers and fathers from their children—or vice versa—is an affront to the sanctity of life and is simply unacceptable.

This potentially devastating blow to children and their families could have been avoided long ago, and the responsibility doesn’t exclusively fall with the president. It falls principally with Congress, both Republicans and Democrats.

Our organization, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, will continue to put pressure on the White House to protect immigrant families from the unnecessary and destructive consequences of these and similar policies. In fact, we were with the president and vice president just last week at the White House. I was heartened to read about the conversation President Trump had with reporters aboard Air Force One just a few days after our meetings when he stated, “What I’d like to do is a comprehensive immigration plan.”

While I’ve had my share of disagreements with the administration, President Trump has demonstrated a willingness to find solutions for those currently protected under DACA and has moved ever-so-slightly—but consistently—in a more positive direction on these issues. The president has stated both publicly and privately that he would “work something out” and that Dreamers “should not worry.” Secretary Kelly even voiced his support for DACA during Wednesday’s closed door meeting with Hispanic lawmakers.

Because of this, President Trump will undoubtedly continue to receive criticism from immigration hardliners who are furious with him for softening his campaign rhetoric and refusing to rescind DACA. This is why we continue to praise him every time he moves one step closer in the right direction.

And still, because DACA was established by executive order, it is, by its very nature, more susceptible to being overturned in the courts. DACA unilaterally confers legal residency and work permits without any statutory authorization from Congress. In other words, since Congress is the only branch of government specifically tasked by the Constitution with the making and passing of laws, they are the ones who must pass legislation that permanently protects the foreign-born children of illegal immigrants.

It’s frankly ridiculous that we’ve found ourselves in this position.The United States has been in desperate need of comprehensive immigration reform for decades. Had Congress acted sooner, we might have avoided the types of immigration policies that incentivized the scale and scope of illegal border crossings that led to our current crisis. Now millions of God fearing, hard working immigrant families are at risk of being ripped apart.

And since this is a Republican led Congress, the onus falls on them to take the first step. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell must move to prioritize immigration legislation this year. The threatened legal action against DACA is yet another reason to demand urgency.

My organization has proposed a five-point immigration reform plan that protects our borders and cuts down on illegal crossings while simultaneously providing humane solutions to address those families already living here. Our proposed plan holds in balance the dual American values of the sanctity of life and the rule of law, which is what any worthwhile immigration reform bill must do.

But as it’s been said, a country will only get the government and the laws it deserves. It’s time the Hispanic community takes up our mantle as Americans—and as the fastest growing voter bloc in the country—to demand Congress does its job.

We must use every political lever at our disposal until we achieve lasting protection for immigrants and their children, but we cannot let Democrat and Republican members of Congress simply scapegoat the president. This time it’s not on him, it starts on Capitol Hill.