Some Christians fear their pastors, ministry partners, and fellow churchgoers could be deported if President Donald Trump ends federal programs granting legal status to immigrants who came to the United States as children.
In response to a threatened September 5 lawsuit by 10 conservative state attorneys general, the President is expected to soon tighten or terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which has allowed 800,000 “Dreamers” over the past five years to work and attend school without the threat of deportation.
Among them are many young church leaders. Hispanic Americans are one of the fastest-growing demographics in evangelicalism, surging in Pentecostal and Assemblies of God traditions as well as among Southern Baptists, where a majority of new church plants are now non-white.
“Open the door,” Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition (NaLEC), told fellow believers this week. “Perhaps they’re the next missionaries that you’re opening the door for.”
Dreamer Juan Garcia, a campus pastor at the University of South Florida, wouldn’t have his diploma or his ministry position without the Obama-era program. “DACA was one of the doors God used to make him an Assemblies of God Chi Alpha missionary,” Salguero said.
The Evangelical Immigration Table, including leaders like National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) president Leith Anderson and Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) president Russell Moore, wrote the President and congressional leaders this week to tell them that Dreamers are “leading in our churches and our communities” and to “find solutions that allow these young people to stay in our country long-term and continue to be a blessing to our communities.”
“As educators who believe that every human is made in the image of God and thus is endowed with dignity from their Creator, we want to support ambitious, driven, intelligent students who have dreams of contributing to their communities and want to pursue an education,” stated Shirley V. Hoogstra, president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. “We do not believe they should be disqualified from doing so because of acts they did not commit. These are inequities that must be remedied.”
Companies like Apple and Amazon defended DACA for the sake of their employees; about three-quarters of top Fortune 500 companies employ Dreamers. World Relief, the NAE’s humanitarian arm, added a statement to acknowledge the Dreamers on its own staff.
“World Relief has also been richly blessed by several staff members whose work authorization is contingent upon the DACA program,” the relief organization said. “Our ministry would be harmed if we were no longer able to employ these superb individuals in whom we have invested training and staff development resources.”
Lynne Hybels, advocate for global engagement at Willow Creek Community Church, stated that her megachurch has “witnessed firsthand the hope that the DACA program has brought to individuals who have wanted nothing more than the chance to pursue an education and lead a productive life, just as our own children have done. To end the program now, without action from Congress first, would be devastating—for them and for the communities that benefit from their work, ingenuity, and courage.”
The threat of Trump repealing DACA has already impacted the program’s enrollment, as recipients fear penalties for coming forward with their status. Those fears have come true for some Christians in the program.
A 22-year-old pastor’s wife, who immigrated from Honduras at age 9, was detained two weeks ago when trying to post bail for a member of her church, even though she had legal status under DACA. Riccy Enriquez Perdomo, a member of Ministerio Jesus Liberta who holds worship nights at her home, spent a week in custody before being released.
As CT previously reported, half of Latino Christians now worry about themselves or someone close to them getting deported, according to Pew Research Center surveys, and more than 4 in 10 have “serious concerns” about their place in America under Trump.
Trump evangelical adviser and National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) president Samuel Rodriguez has repeatedly asked the administration to keep family unification a priority and to deport only criminals.
“As a pastor, I cannot sit idly by while the federal government threatens to forcibly separate families by deportation,” stated Rodriguez. “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.
“If the president breaks his promise to us to protect these children, they should be prepared for a mass exodus of the administration’s Hispanic support,” he continued. “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.”
Rodriguez has continued to speak out to the President, saying this week that Trump needs to do more than keep DACA, pushing for a legislative solution to immigration reform:
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.
Evangelicals, like most Americans, are more likely to favor a path to citizenship for Dreamers (54%) than undocumented immigrants overall (43%), according to a poll conducted this spring by Morning Consult and Politico. About 16 percent of self-identified evangelicals believe Dreamers should be deported, compared to 25 percent for all undocumented immigrants. In the middle: 24 percent of evangelicals say Dreamers should be allowed to stay and become legal residents, but not citizens, if they meet certain legal requirements.
“Regardless of whether we feel the [DACA] executive order should have been issued in the first place, thousands of young immigrants who are paying taxes and contributing to their communities stepped forward in good faith to correct a legal situation for which the should not be held responsible,” according to the ERLC’s position statement on DACA and Dreamers. “They should be rewarded, rather than punished, for their attempt to comply with the law.”