I live on what many call the front lines of the immigration crisis in the U.S.—Arizona. It has become clear to me that the issue with immigration is not about letting people in, but making sure certain people are kept out. In other words, most of our policies are based purely on racially motivated prejudice against brown-skinned people. Attorney Sessions is trying to draw extravagant lines that don’t exist between DACA and the surge of children who came across our borders a few years ago. The two have no correlation. Our president has erroneously labeled immigrants from Mexico as criminals, furthering the racially biased prejudice against anyone who is not caucasian.
For the past five years I have pastored, listened to, and marched with people who have been living in the U.S. for decades because they have been denied any documentation that will allow them to say here legally. In every instance these people have been living peaceably within the U.S., have jobs, pay taxes (despite not reaping many of the benefits of those taxes), and participate actively and positively in our community. Every time there is a push to further marginalize our undocumented neighbors further pushes them into the shadows and into the dangerous world of the underground. Rather than pushing them, why aren’t we finding ways of allowing them to come out of the shadows so they can be recognized and openly share in this country they love? Wouldn’t that be safer for everyone? DACA was one step toward a positive solution to fixing our immigration system that allowed over 800,000 young people to get jobs, continue their education, and contribute openly to our nation’s wellbeing.
I have sat with and listened to countless young people cry and grieve over what might happen to their families, let alone themselves, if DACA is rescinded and congress continues to fail to act to create a more equitable and just immigration system so people don’t have to skirt the rules just to survive. President Obama offered those without residency documentation who came here as children a temporary reprieve from the overwhelming stress so they could continue to pursue their dreams. The President was hoping his executive order would be temporary and that congress might act to fix our terribly broken immigration system. Yet again, they failed to act. Instead, our congressional leaders continue to play parlor games with people’s lives. Who does this really benefit? No one.
What we are facing in the U.S. is as much a spiritual crisis as it is a social crisis. The issue is not people coming here from other countries and “taking our jobs”—that has already been proven time and again not to be the case. When people come to the U.S., legally or illegally, they are far more likely to be avidly engaged in our communities, often more so than those born here. Those who come legally have much higher voter turn out rates, lower unemployment rates, and are often less of a drain on our social services. Why not give those who have been living here for decades the opportunity to apply for citizenship in hopes that they, too, might become actively engaged citizens. Unfortunately, many are paralyzed by fear because of rampant, and now unchecked, racism and prejudice on the part of our government, let alone a certain minority population of the citizenry. The basis of prejudice is ignorance of facts, making opinions about a population of people without really knowing anything about them. Our current President and many of our government leaders have committed terrible acts of biased and unfounded prejudice. Our immigration policies are making people into criminals that they are not.
Some faith communities are stepping up to defend, protect, and amplify the voices of our immigrant neighbors. But not enough are doing so. Christian and Jewish scriptures are clear about how we are to welcome the immigrant living among us, treat them as one of our own, and care for their needs. When we fail to do so, we are not just hurting the immigrants—we are hurting our entire community. When we make immigrants out to be criminals, we destroy the very fabric that holds our nation together. What if we had 5,000 faith communities post large banners outside their places of worship that said, “All are welcome here, documented or undocumented.” What if the faith community stepped up and out to amplify the voices of those crying in the wildernesses of our cities, and call our congressional leaders to act and finally fix a system that has been broken for decades.
Ending DACA makes no sense. There is no compelling reason to continue deporting people who have lived in the U.S. for decades. Doing so will hurt huge numbers of young people, and by extension their families, and by extension the communities in which they live. This is the wrong direction. If you believe, as does Attorney General Sessions, that DACA was unconstitutional, and that such policies need to be enacted by congress rather than the president, then tell your congressional leaders to pass that legislation. We need to heal these wounds, not make them bigger. That is the only way we are going to heal the wounds that continue to deepen the divides that plague our country.