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What the story of Dreamer Juan Manuel Montes can teach us all

Those of us advocating for comprehensive immigration reform must not allow ourselves to get embroiled in the wrong battles. It's important to get the facts straight.
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."
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Juan Manuel Montes, dreamer deportado Crédito: Cortesía del National Immigration Law Center

After news broke last week about 23-year-old Juan Manuel Montes’ deportation to Mexico, headlines across the country pounced on President Trump and the Department of Homeland Security’s immigration enforcement policies.

DNC Chair Tom Perez took to Twitter to berate the President directly. I myself issued a statement expressing I was “hugely alarmed” by the news. I have received promises, both publicly and privately from this administration, that DREAMers would not be deported, and it appeared I had been flatly lied to.

Unfortunately, the facts of the case vary greatly based on who is telling the story. Montes claims he was unfairly apprehended by ICE agents and deported to Mexico where he was later beaten and mugged by unidentified individuals. Lacking his ID and documentation, he attempted to climb back over the border wall into the U.S. where he was promptly apprehended for illegally crossing, and quickly deported.

The DHS on the other hand, claims they have no record of the first encounter and insists that Montes was apprehended simply because he broke the law by illegally entering the country.

An honest assessment of the case must lead us all to conclude that it’s simply too early to know if the deportation of Montes was just or unjust. DACA, after all, is not a guarantee. In fact, President Obama himself deported 365 DREAMers because they broke the law and lost the privilege to stay in this country. United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the country, even issued press releases attacking the former president for those actions.

Montes’ impending lawsuit will be heard by none other than California U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel, who was famously denigrated by Trump as impartial, only because of his Mexican heritage, when he presided over the Trump University lawsuit. As such, I have full confidence that the facts will emerge.

However, there is a larger lesson to be learned here: those of us advocating for comprehensive immigration reform must not allow ourselves to get embroiled in the wrong battles. If it turns out that Montes was unjustly targeted or even a victim of racial discrimination, I will be the first to march the steps of DHS and demand restitution.

However, when we normalize knee-jerk reactions to every story of ICE misconduct without allowing the facts to emerge--simply because Donald Trump is now president--we lose the moral high ground in the debate. Our legitimate concerns and demands are de-legitimized. As the President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), I am constantly confronted with the enormity of the challenge that stands before us as Americans, as Hispanics and as Christians. And because the stakes are so high, we must remain focused on the biggest goal and the most sweeping legislative victory.

As heirs to the mantles of Billy Graham and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we affirm our conviction that now is the time to reconcile border security with the security of our values—values that include faith and the sanctity of the family.

Accordingly, the NHCLC/CONEL hereby calls upon Congress and President Trump to move quickly to enact legislation that will accomplish the following objectives:

· Secure our national borders stopping illegal immigration via the construction of a wall that incorporates physical elements with technology while creating a firewall against tunnels and other intrusions exploited by human and drug traffickers.

· Secure the unity of the immediate family by deporting any and all undocumented individuals that have or are currently engaged in nefarious activities while making sure God-fearing hard-working undocumented families stay intact.

· Secure economic viability and fairness to taxpayers by providing a guest worker program addressing the needs of our economy.

· Secure an integration system by establishing a non-amnesty path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents. Legalization includes permit residency for those that are currently employed or contributing to our economy and not dependent on government subsidies.

· Adults who came into this nation illegally and who are not dependent on government subsidies can obtain a permanent residency status but can only apply for citizenship if they return to their country of origin, go to the back of the line, and proceed with the application process without special accommodation. The children of these individuals do not have to return to their countries of origin in order to become citizens.

Regardless of what is eventually decided in the Montes case, the fervor it unleashed only underscores my conviction that the time for comprehensive immigration reform is now.

As a pastor let me put it another way: the immigration cause no longer resides in the Egypt of political apathy or the desert of expediency. Today, this just cause stands before the Jordan called reform. With prophetic courage, spiritual fortitude and political will, we will cross into the Promised Land of "Just Integration" thus protecting our values, our borders and our dreams.

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” and TIME Magazine nominated him among the 100 most influential leaders in America.