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Here to stay?

DACA is a unique immigration problem only Congress can solve

Here to stay?

Immigrants and supporters march in Las Vegas on Sept. 10 to oppose President Trump’s order to end DACA. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Joel Belz’s column ("Surveying our future") in this issue notes how many teens today are clueless concerning the Bill of Rights and the freedoms it guarantees. That’s evidence of dereliction of duty at public schools. It’s also a problem for all of us, because rights taken for granted usually become rights lost.

I read Joel’s column for this issue just before editing our cover story for the next. That article shows how Middle Eastern and African congregations across Europe, their numbers buoyed by recent immigration under stress, outstrip in size and vitality more traditional Protestant churches. Much of self-satisfied Europe, ignoring the theology of the cross, sees itself as trouble-free. Those who have suffered greatly are more likely to grab on to the cross, splinters and all.

Chapter 11 of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans describes how some unbelieving branches of Israel broke off and God grafted in new, Gentile branches. Maybe there’s an equivalent in civics now: If many American-born teens have never had to fight for rights, maybe we need a grafting in of some who have had to. And that brings me to the current debate about DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Barack Obama ignored the Constitutional separation of powers when he unilaterally created in 2012 the DACA program. President Donald Trump was right to urge Congress to do its job by legislating an approach that would let stay 800,000 young people brought here illegally as children: They would not be punished for the law-breaking of their parents.

Easier said than done, though. A Congress-established DACA program along the 2012 lines would let stay those who entered the U.S. as children before June 5, 2007, and had lived here crime-free for at least 10 years—but it would not give them citizenship, voting rights, or welfare access. Most Democrats want more than that, a DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act with a pathway to citizenship. Many Republicans want less than that, believing DACA would create a new wave of immigration.

WORLD’s Evan Wilt asked senators who identify as evangelicals what the road forward is. He received four responses. Tim Scott, R-S.C., told him, “We’re trying to balance our legal responsibilities as well as having compassion and weaving those two together in a way that honors our faith.” Ted Cruz, R-Texas, spoke of “the need for far more vigorous border security measures, more effective tools to stop illegal immigration. … Any action on the individuals in the DACA program could potentially lead to chain migration of 3, 4, 5 million additional people here illegally.”

David Perdue, R-Ga., said he and his colleagues “want to find a solution for the DACA young people. … I’m not in a position to say what’s a must-have. I’m just making a recommendation from a business perspective that merit-based immigration makes all the sense in the world.” James Lankford, R-Okla., doesn’t want to “hold up the solution for the kids that are in DACA,” but he’s against “legalizing everyone in America that came to the country illegally and using the children to accomplish that. … You basically tell everyone around the world if you come illegally and you bring a child with you then you will get legal status.”

DACA, Lankford added, presents “a unique situation” for practicing “love and mercy while also respecting authority.” He emphasized that “every person is created in the image of God and has value and worth” and noted two aspects make DACA different from other immigration issues: The DACA young people did not come of their own volition, and they can’t be sent “home” because they have no memory of any home other than the United States. He added, “The Biblical value of honoring authority is still exceptionally important.”

None of these four wanted Congress to pass a bill just putting DACA into law without dealing with larger immigration issues—but can a dysfunctional Congress in five months come to any resolution? Evan Wilt also spoke with Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a Mormon. Hatch said he was for a mere-DACA vote and “can live with that” without border security measures. Asked about leaving a larger immigration debate for later, he said, “I’d like to do that. I’m actually very empathic with the DACA kids. … I don’t see any reason to pick on them.”

A good argument against that approach: It doesn’t solve any of the larger immigration problems. A good argument for it: The only thing many teens learn in school about the United States in the 1830s is that the government wrongly and forcibly pushed 16,000 Cherokees west of the Mississippi on the “Trail of Tears.” Without DACA, a new Trail of Tears is likely.

If Congress does let the 800,000 stay, maybe they’ll have more appreciation for our Bill of Rights than some who are native-born. Given what many public schools teach, and don’t teach, that may be too hopeful—but, as Joel’s survey showed, the United States needs people who know freedom is hard to gain and retain.

Marvin Olasky

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD and dean of World Journalism Institute. He joined WORLD in 1992 and has also been a university professor and provost. He has written more than 20 books, including Reforming Journalism. Marvin resides with his wife, Susan, in Austin, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.