By Jessica Brodie
United Methodists were among the people of faith and other advocates who rallied in protest and prayer recently over the thousands of young adults slated to lose their legal status and face deportation because the Trump administration is ending a government policy to protect them.
The policy, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, was created by President Barack Obama through a 2012 executive order to allow the roughly 7,000 youth and young adults in South Carolina and 800,000 across the nation who were brought to the United States illegally—some as infants with no memory of their birthplace—to remain in the country. In September, the Trump administration announced no new applications would be accepted for the program and it would be ending March 5 unless Congress can come up with a fix.
DACA was a compromise on the part of the Obama administration to offer some protection for immigrant youth after Congress failed to pass the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act; DREAM would have offered those youth the opportunity to potentially gain permanent legal residency.
To commemorate the halfway mark to the March end and to call on legislators to do something to help, United Methodist pastors and laity were among those who rallied in events across the state and nation the week of Dec. 5.
In Columbia, advocates gathered in front of South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott’s office Dec. 5 asking him to show his support for a bipartisan “clean” DREAM Act (without as many restrictions as the previous DREAM Act).
The interfaith team of South Carolina United with Immigrants held an interfaith prayer vigil Dec. 5 to pray for those affected and for Congress to pass a DREAM Act before DACA expires.
In Greenville, Upstate United Methodist clergy and laity activists rallied with others Dec. 5 for Congress to enact protections for the young immigrants, specifically asking Scott and Upstate Reps. Trey Gowdy and Jeff Duncan to support the DREAM Act. They are also collecting endorsements of Upstate clergy on a statement of support for persons with DACA. The statement is below and is signed by church leaders, including United Methodists. As of Dec. 13, they have 81 persons who have endorsed, including 25 UMC clergy. Another event is scheduled for Dec. 23, “Jesus: King, Savior and Refugee,” featuring immigration stories, caroling and liturgy.
And in Rock Hill, many gathered for a prayer vigil the evening of Dec. 7 to pray for the immigrant young adults and for lawmakers.
“We need to advocate on behalf of our neighbors, and churches need to be involved,” said the Rev. Emily Sutton, chair of the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church’s Hispanic Latino Task Force and who attended the Rock Hill event. “What we’re saying is these people don’t matter when we repeal DACA.”
Many opposed to DACA and the DREAM Act feel those affected should have no legal status and be deported—illegal is illegal, plus such a policy could set a bad example or lead to “chain migration.” But others say these youth did nothing wrong, that their parents were the ones who brought them here, and they should have protection.
Others further note that Jesus was an immigrant and point to a number of verses in Scripture that command people to “love the alien who resides with you” and “love the stranger.”
Tammy Besherse, a lawyer with South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, works on immigration cases with a number of DACA youth and young adults and knows their stories.
“What will happen is if a law is not passed in time, then people will start losing their legal status March 6 and there is no more DACA, and once you expire you have zero legal status,” Besherse said, noting that in South Carolina, no legal status means no driver’s license, no work permit, no going to state-funded colleges, etc. “They’re citizens except by paper; some came as babies. One DACA young adult has been here since she was a 1-year-old and another since he was 4. She is now 23 and he is 19. They’re working jobs. They were (so young when they were brought here); they didn’t even know; what have they done wrong?”
Besherse said she hopes people will learn their stories, develop a heart for those affected and work to get a bill passed to protect them.
She and Sutton encourage people of faith to call or write their legislators and express a wish for DACA youth and young adults to be protected and have a path to citizenship. They said calling is most effective, and a letter is next in line; emails are not considered to be as effective.
“This is going to be a long, hard battle, and we know that,” Sutton said.
But making their voices heard en masse, they said, will show legislators the will of the people they were elected to represent. South Carolina has two United States senators, Sen. Tim Scott and Sen. Lindsey Graham, who represent the entire state, and seven representatives in the United States House of Representatives. To contact Sen. Graham: 202-224-5972. To contact Sen. Scott: 202-224-6121. To find contact information for your area’s representative: 202-224-3121 or do a zip code search at https://ziplook.house.gov/htbin/findrep_house?ZIP=