Local religious leaders have joined those across the country opposing the Trump administration’s plan to dismantle DACA, an Obama-era program that protects from deportation people who were brought into the United States illegally as young children or who have stayed here after visas expired.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program would be discontinued. President Donald Trump said that permits will begin to expire in six months, but can remain active for up to 24 months if applicants ask for timely renewals. In the meantime, the president said Congress needs to put a permanent solution in place.
Faith leaders say the action will cause unnecessary anxiety for those who have been granted DACA protection since the program was created by then-President Barack Obama in 2012. About 800,000 people have been offered protections across the country.
“In the Biblical tradition of dreamers and visionaries like Joseph, Daniel and the apostle John, Bishop Anne Hodges-Copple and I stand with all the children impacted by the threat of deportation with the latest DACA action,” said the Rt. Rev. Sam Rodman, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina.
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“As the most vulnerable among us, they need and deserve our protection, our advocacy and support, and an opportunity for their lives, their voices and their dreams to be woven into the fabric of the American dream.”
Obama created DACA in an executive order after Congress repeatedly failed to pass legislation to address the status of those immigrants — mostly Hispanic — whose family members had brought into them into the country as infants or young children.
Conservative and liberal churches say they’re opposed to any program that would subject such immigrants, many of whom are now working and paying taxes, to deportation unless they are involved in criminal activity.
In North Carolina, 49,712 residents have had deferred action applications approved, and some have had them renewed, giving the state the eighth-highest number of DACA participants in the country. The great majority of DACA recipients in the United States and in North Carolina are Hispanic.
Hope Morgan Ward, resident bishop of the N.C. Conference of the United Methodist Church, called for compassion in a statement posted to the conference website.
“As DACA is rescinded today, let us hold in our hearts and prayers our Hispanic neighbors, including our clergy, their families and the people they lead and serve,” Ward said. “The United Methodist Church has opposed this action on DACA consistently. … The entire church at every level proclaims welcome and fullness of life to all people. We are committed to welcome, hospitality and justice for young people and all affected by DACA.”
Newly installed Bishop Luis Zarama of the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh joined with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in criticizing the dismantling of the program. In a statement, the conference of bishops called the move “reprehensible,” and said, “This decision is unacceptable and does not reflect who we are as Americans.”
Zarama said he is sad to hear the announcement from Washington.
“While we must certainly respect our borders and our laws, so we must be guided in how we are to care for the least among us, including those who, through no fault of their own, have lived in our country for many years and now seek to make their own contribution to the greatness of our society.”
Like others, Zarama called on Congress to act “as a substantive first step toward long-needed comprehensive immigration reform in our country.”
Antonio Santos, Hispanic strategy coordinator for the N.C. Baptists, said members of the convention’s more than 4,000 North Carolina churches have worried for months what the Trump administration would do about DACA because Trump said before his election that he would end the program.
“The anxiety and pressure this puts on kids is really hard,” Santos said.
The president acted to end DACA now to prevent a lawsuit that a group of Republican state attorneys general had threatened, saying DACA is illegal.
Wednesday, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein joined 15 attorneys general, all Democrats, in a lawsuit to challenge the administration’s plans to end DACA.
In the long run, Santos said, the president’s action might help immigrants by prompting Congress to begin work on immigration reform.
“We are at the mercy of politicians,” Santos said. “May God help us.”