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The day after Donald Trump became President-elect, my young friend Jose couldn’t finish his drive to work. Halfway there, he had a panic attack and had to pull over. He knew he wasn’t in immediate danger, yet he couldn’t stop thinking about the possibility of being suddenly detained and deported to a country he has not seen since he was a young child.
After hearing Jose’ story, I read a Facebook post from a kind, Christian woman: “Why do we suddenly need to protect vulnerable people at this moment?” she asked. “How can anyone be made vulnerable by an election?”
As a pastor in this historic moment, my job is to help this sister learn what it means to call Jose our brother.
Since his panic attack, Jose has heard President-elect Trump reaffirm his campaign promise to remove Obama’s Executive Order which guarantees legal status to Jose and 750,000 other “Dreamers.” The Dreamers are young people who were brought to this country as children and received an education in our public school system. Obama’s Executive Order, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), allows these young people to stay in the United States legally for a renewable two-year period and to obtain work permits, giving them the opportunity to contribute their talents, skills and knowledge as legal employees.
DACA has served to rectify a critically important injustice in our immigration system. As the result of a provision in 1995 immigration legislation, anyone who has been in this country for more than a year without legal status must return to their home country for 10 years before being able to begin any process for immigration. If a DACA-eligible young person marries a US Citizen or has a job offer, they cannot apply for legal residency. Instead, they must return to a country they do not remember for a decade, leaving their home and often leaving US Citizen siblings, spouses and other family members behind.
Over 90% of U.S. citizens polled in 2007 said that they supported the Dream Act – legislation that would create a pathway to residency or citizenship for these young people. Yet despite bi-partisan support, the Dream Act stalled in Congress. As a result, President Obama created a special category of deferred deportation for these young people until the Congress could resolve their predicament.
Many of these young people arrived in this country because their parents had jobs as agricultural workers. Our current immigration system allows for 5,000 visas a year for all unskilled workers, including all agricultural workers. However, we have imported about 80% of our agricultural workers over the last 200 years of our national history (slavery was a giant program to import agricultural workers). Our immigration laws do not match our actual economic practice.
With DACA rescinded, Dreamers who have given all of their information in good faith to the federal government will become eligible for deportation. Though they are not the “criminals” President-Elect Trump promised to target for deportation, they are much easier to locate. Jose has, in fact, been made vulnerable by an election. So I have been asking his sisters and brothers in the church what it means for us to stand with him.
As a parent, I want my children to be responsible to and for each other. The Scriptures make clear that God feels the same way. Because God “defends the cause” of the vulnerable, Deuteronomy says, “you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” Hospitality isn’t just an act of charity. It’s an essential practice to help us remember who we are.
Many Americans do not know very much about the needs, the suffering, or the overall situation of the “foreigners” in our midst. We do not understand how the election of Donald Trump makes Jose vulnerable.
But churches across the nation are making a public pledge to do something about this. The “Matthew 25 Pledge” offers a laundry list of ways to say publicly to brothers like Jose, “We are with you.” From prayer and education, to advocacy, to temporary emergency shelter and legal assessment for those who are facing the threat of sudden deportation, churches are preparing to offer genuine sanctuary to vulnerable sisters and brothers. We will be working in coalition with non-profit legal service providers and immigrant rights’ organizations to respond to the needs of the moment.
Yes, people can be made vulnerable by an election. But vulnerable people can also be protected by being part of a beloved community willing to defend them from harm. This has been the story of faith throughout history, and it is the job of pastors like me to keep telling that story and inviting us to live into it again through the Trump years.
If you or your congregation would like to sign the “Matthew 25 Pledge,” contact Red Letter Christians.