Back in June, our team at the NHCLC was first informed that 11 conservative state attorneys general were threatening to sue the federal government if the Trump administration failed to rescind DACA. Then Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, John Kelly, while sympathetic to Dreamers, advised the Hispanic Congressional Caucus that the executive order might be indefensible in court since it was not established by an act of Congress.
Deferred Action for Child Arrivals was created by President Obama in 2012 – and continued by President Trump – as a response to congressional gridlock, to shield hundreds of thousands of children brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents, by no fault of their own.
I wrote an article at that time placing the blame squarely on Congress for their repeated failure to act. I also urged them to short-circuit the lawsuit by moving quickly to pass legislation that protected Dreamers. They have not.
Now, news reports suggest that President Trump is “likely to rescind DACA” or, since DACA requires that it be renewed every two years, simply allow it to expire.
Let me say this at the outset: I have been publically and privately very supportive of this president’s willingness to defend religious freedom and to protect the lives of the unborn. Similarly, the NHCLC has worked diligently, often behind closed doors, urging the president to move away from his campaign promise to rescind DACA on day one.
When he came out and said Dreamers should “rest easy” because he was more interested in going after criminals, we praised him publicly. He later reiterated that sentiment to us privately saying he “was a grandfather and father and would protect these children.”
Now, in their moment of greatest need, as the fate of Dreamers rests in either the hands of Congress or this administration’s willingness to defend DACA in federal court, President Trump is being pressured to use DACA as a bargaining chip and possibly turn his back on America’s children.
The human toll that will be unleashed by rescinding DACA is potentially devastating. This is and always has been, an issue centered upon the sanctity of human life. As a pastor, I cannot sit idly by while the federal government threatens to forcibly separate families by deportation. In the Scriptures, we read the timeless words, “Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Mark 10:9) It is no individual’s or government’s place to rip families apart, let alone millions of them. The scope of this crisis is simply breathtaking.
In the president’s defense, he is not directly responsible for the root causes of this disaster. For years now, many of us have been sounding the alarm about our country’s desperate need for comprehensive immigration reform. We saw the writing on the wall that a failure to act then would ultimately result in just the sort of disaster we find ourselves in now. Democrat and Republican led Congresses dating back to the Clinton years, have failed to update our antiquated immigration policy.
By failing to establish an efficient and lawful mode of entry for both laborers and seasonal workers, millions of immigrants were incentivized to enter the country illegally to fill the employment needs of countless companies here in the U.S. As a result, these hardworking people have established their lives in this country, and of course, they’ve raised their families here as well.
We cannot, years later, attempt to make right any real or perceived inadequacies in our past immigration policies, by now deporting immigrant children who know only America as their home. As I said before, these are America’s children.
I am supportive of re-establishing the rule-of-law at the border, and of cracking down on gang members, drug smugglers and human traffickers, but we must look forward, not back. Now is the time for the president to deploy every resource at his disposal to defend DACA in federal court. Even if DACA is struck down by the courts, at least it won’t happen without a fight. Regardless of the outcome, President Trump will have the admiration and the appreciation of millions of Hispanics behind him.
And He can’t stop there. President Trump must wield the unparalleled influence of the bully pulpit, leveraging every tweet, speech and public statement to demand that Congress move quickly to pass comprehensive immigration reform. I’m not talking about blanket amnesty as some would suggest, but a balanced bill that is capable of gaining bipartisan support; one that enforces our borders, incentivizes legal immigration, sends illegal immigrants to the back of the line, and protects Dreamers who have, up until now, been caught up in our destructive political crossfire.
This time, should the Department of Homeland Security break the President's promise, they better be prepared for a mass exodus of the administration’s Hispanic support. Even the most conservative among us will not sacrifice our children on the altar of political expediency. Let me be clear, should they decide to do so, we will oppose them.
For their own repeated failures to address comprehensive immigration reform and thus creating this entirely unnecessary and ongoing political nightmare, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress will bear the full weight of the Hispanic community’s growing political influence. It is time we begin to remove from office, all those representatives who refuse to work together in the defense of families and the sacredness of human life.
Dreamers are not bargaining chips, they are America’s sons and daughters, and right now, they urgently need our support.
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. He has been named by CNN and Fox News as “the leader of the Hispanic Evangelical movement."