September 14, 2017
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on behalf of the Trump administration that the federal government is rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on Sept. 5. DACA was created by an executive action of President Barack Obama in 2012 and gives legal status to approximately 800,000 United States residents who entered the country illegally as children but have lived here continuously since 2007, granting them protection from deportation and a permit to legally work in the U.S. DACA recipients can apply to renew these privileges every two years. On March 5 of 2018, however, DACA will officially end and the federal government will stop accepting applications for permit renewals.
“We are people of compassion and people of law,” Sessions said in his announcement. “There is nothing compassionate about failing to enforce immigration law.”
This seeming dichotomy between compassion and justice resonates just as loudly at Wheaton as it does around the country. Mark Amstutz, professor of international relations at Wheaton and author of the book “Just Immigration: American Policy in Christian Perspective,” believes that many Christians have “oversimplified” the issue.
“[People say], ‘How can you really be a Christ-like, compassionate, loving person if you’re not eager to welcome the DACA children?’” Amstutz said. “It’s not quite that simple. Jesus loves everybody in the world … [but] the task of government is justice.”
“People of Law”
The question of immigration is one that has plagued the U.S. for years and was at the forefront of Donald Trump’s political campaign. DACA is just one example of the political wrangling which has surrounded the issue for decades; the program was initially enacted by President Obama after the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act failed to get Senate approval. The DREAM Act would have provided a pathway to citizenship for alien minors, but met significant congressional opposition for just that reason. DACA, by contrast, simply allows these undocumented minors to live and work in the country.
It is the program’s status as an executive act, rather than as an act of Congress, that Amstutz sees as problematic.
“These [immigration policies] are acts that should be undertaken by law, by Congress,” Amstutz said. “The authority to do that, in my estimation, simply is not in the hands of the president. It has to be done by law.”
Amstutz described DACA as a “temporary program,” and indeed, President Trump has already called upon Congress to replace it. Trump’s critics, however, say that the abrupt end to the program is both unfair and uncaring towards current beneficiaries of the program. Among these critics are the University of California as well as 15 separate states which have all filed lawsuits opposing the end of the program. The University’s legal case alleges that Trump’s decision violates both the Administrative Procedure Act and the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment, while those who support the rescission argue that DACA was an overreach of executive power to begin with.
Author of the book “Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible” and Professor of Old Testament Danny Carroll was raised in a bicultural home with close ties to his mother’s roots in Guatemala. He expressed that he was “disappointed” by the President’s actions regarding DACA.
Carroll sees DACA in three “layers”: sociocultural, Biblical and legislative. He cautions Christians against beginning with the legislative layer and turns to two Biblical passages to suggest a different approach. While many Christians want to begin in Romans 13 with Paul’s command to “submit … to the governing authorities,” Carroll argues that the conversation should begin at the beginning: in Genesis 1, with the humanity of all people.
“If you begin with the legal piece, you tend to gravitate towards punishment because they violated the law,” Carroll said. “But if you begin with [the] humanity piece, you get to the question, ‘how do we integrate all this potential for human good?’ You’re still talking legislation, but the tone will change.”
“People of Compassion”
Senior Brian Salcedo immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico when he was a year old and is now a U.S. permanent resident.
“I was raised in the United States and am grateful for the opportunities this country has provided me since I was a child,” Salcedo said. “I am happy to be able to see the world and understand it from two different cultures.”
Like Amstutz and Carroll, Salcedo asserts that the balance for Christians between acting justly and acting compassionately is not an easy one.
“Currently, the narrative has the emphasis on justice,” Salcedo said. “However, Jesus welcomed all and urged us to love wholeheartedly and unconditionally. … I think that as Christians, [our task] is more about advocating for the stranger.”
The call to “welcome the stranger” is one which has floated around Christian circles in many recent situations, in reference to refugees and migrants, both legal and illegal. This rhetoric comes from Scripture; Carroll affirms that the theme of migration is “pervasive in the Bible from the Old Testament patriarchs to the New Testament.”
Does this mean that Christians should support DACA’s attempt to make a place for the “strangers” in the United States? Amstutz asserts that the duty of the Christian in such situations is not spelled out in black and white.
“The issue with law is not just being compassionate but being just and fair to everybody,” Amstutz said. “There are South Sudanese who would love to be here; there are people from Syria who would love to be here. … The issue is, why should we be dealing with DACA rather than refugees from South Sudan?”
In defense of DACA, Salcedo describes the program not as one that excludes “needier” migrants, but as one which extends justice to the migrants who are already living among us — which will, in turn, benefit American citizens.
“As Christians, we are called to be there for those in need,” Salcedo said. “As Americans, we are called to improve our nation and one way it can be done is by improving the opportunities of the minorities around us. In giving to them, they open opportunities for the rest of the nation and contribute to its economic and political growth.”
Regardless of where Christians find their opinions on DACA, Carroll reiterates that all are closely connected to the issue of migration, whether they have experienced it as a physical reality or not.
“Migration is actually an important metaphor for what it means to be a Christian. We have a different king, a different citizenship, a different set of loyalties and values,” Carroll said. “We are all supposed to be strangers in a strange land.”
On Wednesday night, the Trump Administration and prominent Democratic leaders began discussing “a legislative deal that would protect hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants from deportation and enact border security measures that don’t include building a physical wall,” according to The Washington Post.
The Political Science department is sponsoring a discussion of DACA’s current implications for the nation on Sept. 25 at 4 p.m. in Blanchard 339. Ali Noorani of the National Immigration Forum and Matt Soerens of World Relief will be speaking.
September 14, 2017