Faith Leaders Stand with Young Dreamers in Front of White House
On August 2, faith leaders, other advocates, and young people who have legal immigrant status as part of the DACA program gathered together in front of the White House. They were there to urge the President to maintain the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA was instituted by the Obama administration to help young people who were brought to this country as children by parents without legal immigration status. Many arrived at a very young age, going through school and graduating, only to be prevented from getting a driver’s license or qualifying for college financial aid (or even admission in some places). There was strong sympathy for allowing these “young dreamers” to gain legal status so they can continue to contribute to their communities and our nation. But mixed statements from the Trump administration have caused great concern that the program might be terminated.
So the organization Faith in Public Life collected more than 1,000 signatures from faith leaders nationwide on a letter to urge the President to continue DACA, and the gathering in the hot August sun announced the letter’s delivery.
We heard from Gerson Quinteros, a young DACA participant who gives back to the community in the Washington, DC area in part by coaching soccer and swimming. His advice to other immigrants: “Don’t let fear overtake you.” Claudia Quinones told us about the fear she lived with as a young undocumented child. After she graduated from high school she felt hopeless, because she could not see a way to go to college. She talked about praying for something to happen, and soon after, DACA was announced. She was able to get her learner’s permit and Social Security number, and enrolled in community college. “I’m here to tell you not to be afraid,” she said. “I am one of eight hundred thousand DACA beneficiaries whose lives have changed because of DACA. DACA does work.”
Yes, it does – but it is under threat. Attorneys General in 10 states have threatened to sue the Trump administration if it does not discontinue the program. The administration, while announcing it would continue DACA, also said in June that “no final determination” had been made about the program. Two years after its inception, DACA was quite popular with the public: 63 percent supported it. There has been bipartisan support for the dreamers in Congress.
But there have also been toxic attacks on immigrants, through the presidential campaign and ongoing. Increasingly, these attacks show that strong families are not a paramount concern among those pushing for immigrant restrictions. Support for the DACA dreamers comes from the understanding that they and their families have been living here since 2007 and that there is a tremendous cost we all bear if hundreds of thousands of young people are prevented from making best use of their talents in our economy. The Trump administration has shown a willingness to deport young people, even without ending DACA. (To remain qualified for DACA, people are not supposed to have committed a felony or serious misdemeanor; there have been recent reports of deportation proceedings for people with relatively minor violations.) The administration has also voiced support for the RAISE Act, a new bill by Senators Cotton (R-AR) and Perdue (R-GA) that would cut legal immigration by more than 40 percent in its first year and in half by the tenth year. The bill would dramatically reduce the number of immigrants admitted to join family members. While the bill’s proponents talked about greater emphasis on admitting immigrants with high skills, those entrants would not increase (they would remain at 140,000, about the same as today’s levels). All the reduction is among family members. Further, it tears at families and harms U.S. citizen children by denying them access to health care and nutrition assistance for up to five years if one family member entered through a visa to be limited by the bill. (For more information about the bill see fact sheets from CLASP and NILC – look at the box to take action.)
Conservatives over the years have made a big point of the importance of intact families in improving economic security and carrying out the responsibilities of child-rearing. Families with more than one adult and more than one worker have undeniable strengths. Children growing up with family stability and with access to work and educational opportunities are more likely to enter the middle class, and more likely to stay there. That is true of new immigrant families as well as those whose forebears were immigrants. If the right wing stakes out the territory that strengthening families and providing opportunity for the young is only a priority for some of us, they will find that many Americans don’t agree.
To quote Rev. Jennifer Butler, CEO of Faith in Public Life, who spoke at the event, “We see unwavering commitment to the brave young immigrants in our pews, in our classrooms, serving our communities and building our future. We are praying, we are marching, we are speaking truth to power.”