WASHINGTON (BP) — The Trump administration announced today (Sept. 5) the repeal of a program that has protected people brought illegally to the United States as children by their parents, but it also provided a window of time for Congress to act in response.
In a morning briefing, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the revocation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a 2012 order by President Obama that gave relief from deportation to undocumented immigrants who arrived in this country before their 16th birthday. Obama issued the executive order after Congress failed for more than a decade to pass proposals to address the issue.
The repeal of DACA will involve a “wind-down process” that will enable the Department of Homeland Security “to conduct an orderly change and fulfill the desire of this administration to create a time period for Congress to act — should it so choose,” said Sessions, who did not announce the time duration.
Even before Sessions’ announcement, President Trump signaled the ball was in the legislative branch’s court. “Congress, get ready to do your job — DACA!,” Trump tweeted earlier in the morning.
Evangelical Christian leaders who had urged continued protection for undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers also called for Congress to act after the administration’s announcement.
“Congress should do the right thing and provide a solution for those who were brought here by parents as children,” tweeted Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“And churches will be here to speak hope to children now thrown into fear and insecurity about their families and their futures,” Moore said in a follow-up tweet.
Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and a member of Trump’s evangelical advisory board, said in a written release, “I am disappointed that these protections are ending and I’ve expressed that disappointment to the White House directly. I also understand why they chose this course of action.
“We do not intend on letting a single member of Congress have a good night’s rest until they guarantee our young people can rest easy,” he said.
In Congress, Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., a Southern Baptist, agreed with Sessions that immigration policy should come from Congress.
“It is right for there to be consequences for those who intentionally entered this country illegally,” Lankford said in a written statement. “However, we as Americans do not hold children legally accountable for the actions of their parent. In the coming months, Congress must address this issue.”
Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., also a Southern Baptist, said in a news release, “The President is right; Congress has the responsibility to address this issue and now is the time to do so. With thoughtful debate, jobs can be protected, lawful immigration can be championed, and the proper relief can come for the young people who know only America as their country and who continue to work hard to achieve that American dream.”
Members of Congress proposed the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act for the first time in 2001, and the measure gained reintroduction several times thereafter. Congress failed to approve the measure, prompting Obama to act.
In his announcement, Sessions described DACA as “an unconstitutional exercise of authority” by the Obama administration, which “deliberately sought to achieve what the legislative branch specifically refused to authorize on multiple occasions.” He expressed the opinion a court would strike down the program, a fate met by a similar program for parents.
About 800,000 Dreamers, as they are known, have received protection through DACA since Obama’s order. Under DACA, those who come forward and qualify are able to remain in the country, receive drivers’ licenses, work and attend college. After two years, they are able to apply for renewal. The program does not provide a pathway to citizenship.
Republican attorneys general from 10 states had threatened to sue the administration if it did not rescind DACA by Sept. 5.
Members of Trump’s evangelical advisory board met with the president Friday, and some urged him not to revoke DACA, according to Christianity Today.
Moore and other leaders of the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT) asked Trump and congressional leaders in Aug. 30 letters to maintain protections for Dreamers.
More than two dozen Southern Baptists who did not sign the EIT’s Aug. 30 letter have affirmed the coalition’s statement of six general principles for immigration reform. Those who affirmed the general principles include former Southern Baptist Convention presidents, as well as current and former SBC entity presidents.
Trump promised during the 2016 presidential campaign he would “immediately terminate” DACA, The New York Times reported, but since taking office he has described those in the DACA program as “incredible kids” and said deciding their fate is “one of the most difficult subjects I have.”
In 2011, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix approved a resolution on immigration reform that called for the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus while pursuing justice and compassion. The measure urged the government to make a priority of border security and hold businesses accountable in their hiring. It also requested public officials establish after securing the borders “a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country.” It specified the resolution was not to be interpreted as supporting amnesty.