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ERLC urging quick action on protecting Dreamers


NASHVILLE (BP) – The Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics entity is exhorting Congress to act quickly to guard undocumented immigrants brought into the United States as children from deportation, participants in the 2022 Evangelical Convening on Immigration were told March 28.

The 90-minute event, held as a webinar, addressed various issues regarding immigration and refugees. It featured remarks by leaders in the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT), the webinar’s sponsoring organization, as well as publicly policy specialists and people from other countries who are now living in the United States.

Chelsea Sobolik, director of public policy for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), told the online audience the need for a legislative solution for Dreamers, the name given to children brought across the border illegally, is acute because a federal judge struck down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program last year. The Biden administration has appealed the ruling.

The ERLC and EIT “have long called on Congress to provide a permanent solution for Dreamers because we believe that this is a justice issue, that the Bible is clear that we do not hold children responsible for the actions of their parents,” Sobolik said. “Our vulnerable neighbors are not adequately protected.

“[B]ecause of the extreme uncertainty from the courts, we certainly feel a strong sense of urgency, and we are hoping to help Congress feel that strong sense of urgency to pass permanent, bipartisan legislation that will immediately protect our DACA neighbors.”

She said, “It’s important for us to remember that Dreamers are not an abstraction. They are people who are created in God’s image. [T]heir entire lives and livelihoods are at stake right now.”

In 2012, President Obama issued an executive order establishing the DACA program, which protects undocumented immigrants who arrived in this country before their 16th birthday. DACA provides a two-year window of protection from deportation and makes participants eligible for benefits that include permission to work.

Andrew Hanen, a federal judge in Houston, ruled in July 2021 that DACA violates U.S. law by supplanting the authority of Congress regarding immigration. Hanen’s order does not affect current DACA recipients nor prohibit applications, but it forbids approval of any requests to enter the program.

Jose Ocampo, who serves on the staff of a Southern Baptist church in Charlotte, N.C., spoke during the webinar as a beneficiary of the DACA program. He was brought to this country from Mexico by his mother when he was two months old.

Ocampo grew up in Charlotte, trusted in Jesus while in middle school and participated in the youth ministry of Hickory Grove Baptist Church, he said. He now serves as youth and music associate with Hickory Grove’s Latin American campus. Ocampo is a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.

DACA “was a blessing because it did open the door for me to have Social Security, to be able to go to school, and without it I wouldn’t have been able to do all those things,” said Ocampo, a graduate of Wingate University in Wingate, N.C. “So it’s opened doors, but at the same time it’s definitely haunted a lot of opportunities.”

When asked how fellow Christians should respond to Dreamers, Ocampo told the online audience, “I think empathy goes a long way with a lot of DACA recipients, because a lot of them just want to be heard and understood. I just ask that you walk with empathy, walk with grace, because in reality a lot of these people need comfort.

“For us to be able to share the Gospel and then be able to live it out exemplifies this amazing love that we’ve received through Christ,” he said. “I think that’s important, that’s a first step, … we can show empathy and support through just loving on refugees, loving on immigrants, on these DACA recipients. That goes a long way, believe it or not.”

The effort to provide a solution for Dreamers is only one of many issues involved in reforming America’s immigration system. An estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants are in the United States, but congressional efforts to enact a comprehensive measure have failed.

In 2011 and 2018, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting adopted resolutions on immigration reform that called for securing the border and establishing “a just and compassionate path to legal status,” with restitutionary measures, for undocumented immigrants already in the United States.

Galen Carey, vice president of government relations with the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), said he thinks it is possible for action on immigration reform to occur, “and our conviction is that we would like to see it happen this year.” 

About 80 percent of Americans support immigration reform that consists of securing the border, helping farm workers and granting permanent, legal status or citizenship for Dreamers, he said.

“And so we think a package that combines those three things would have a pretty good chance of winning majority support in the Congress,” Carey told webinar participants. He thinks the key will be “the intensity of the advocacy.” Four of five Americans support these proposals, “but a lot of them don’t care that deeply about it,” Carey said.

To help evangelicals advocate for immigration reform with their senators and representatives, EIT is sponsoring Virtual Capitol Hill Days May 3-4. Registration for the event is open now.                                                                                                                                           

The ERLC and NAE are among the leaders in EIT, a coalition of evangelical organizations and denominations that was founded in 2012.

EIT’s statement of principles calls for a bipartisan solution on immigration that:

·      “Respects the God-given dignity of every person;

·      “Protects the unity of the immediate family;

·      “Respects the rule of law;

·      “Guarantees secure national borders;

·      “Ensures fairness to taxpayers, and

·      “Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents.”