By Marv Knox / Fellowship Southwest
SAN ANTONIO—The dreams of a rising generation of undocumented U.S. residents must be protected—and Christians are bound to protect them, speakers insisted during a “Protect the Dreamers” rally at Baptist Temple in San Antonio Nov. 28.
“Dreamers” are young undocumented U.S. residents who were brought to the United States as children. Since 2012, DACA—Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—has allowed them to remain in the country and to obtain work permits. But in September, the Trump Administration announced plans to rescind DACA, so they face deportation when their two-year residency permits expire.
The results would be catastrophic and cruel, speakers at the rally warned.
“As believers, we must do something,” stressed Patty Villarreal, event organizer and co-founder of the Christian Latina Leadership Institute. “We must stand for those who are scared, who are afraid they may be uprooted” if Congress does not reinstate DACA and provide a path to citizenship.
Villarreal, who teaches social work at Baptist University of the Américas in San Antonio, described how her heart broke for many of her students and their friends and families, who were frightened when President Trump said he will rescind DACA.
So now, if Congress allows DACA to expire by the deadline date, March 5, as many as 1,000 young people per day will be in jeopardy of deportation to countries they cannot even remember, Villarreal said.
The Christian Latina Leadership Institute sponsored the rally alongside Convencion Hispana Bautista de Texas—the Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas—as well as the Texas Christian Community Development Network and the United Methodist Church’s Southwest Conference.
Karina Alvarez—a Dreamer, public schoolteacher and mother—put a face on Dreamers for the rally crowd.
The broad stereotype of Dreamers—as freeloaders who take without giving and drain the economy—is wrong, Alvarez reported.
Backing the conversation up a generation, she said, “my parents were the first Dreamers,” because they brought their children to the United States for safety and to pursue dreams of better lives, Alvarez said.
In her case, she was born in Mexico and brought to the United States as a child by her parents, who pushed the value of education as a path to productivity, she said.
Now, the challenge of pursuing the future has shifted to her generation, she conceded. “I want my child to know I fought … to change the misconceptions people have about us,” she said to applause from the crowd.
God punishes those who mistreat immigrants and “foreigners” and blesses those who welcome them, noted Jesse Rincones, executive director of Convencion Hispana Bautista de Texas.
“Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow,” Rincones read from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, citing God’s message from Moses.
“But God never allowed a curse to be the last word. There always was a promise,” he said, adding the prophet Jeremiah repeatedly promised blessing for those who welcome and do not oppress the foreigner.
“If we want God’s promises to be a reality in our lives, we must receive and welcome the immigrant and the foreigner,” Rincones warned.
“What an atrocity,” Mel Keyes, pastor of the Joshua House of Worship in San Antonio, said of the prospect of Dreamers being deported. “There are people in the United States who are Dreamers par excellence, who do not have the opportunity to live out their God-given dreams.”
That’s not a dream; it’s a nightmare, he said.
Christians should be like the four friends mentioned in the second chapter of the Gospel of Mark, who carried their paralyzed friend to Jesus, Keyes said, noting, “We must raise our voices to Congress and everyone else” and carry the plight of the Dreamers to those who can deliver justice.
Support for Dreamers derives from allegiance to Jesus, insisted John Fagan, pastor of La Trinidad Iglesia Metodista in San Antonio.
“We have to stand up for the integrity of our Christian faith at a time of great apostasy in the United States,” Fagan said. He acknowledged “apostasy” is a strong word, but said it is appropriate to describe the actions of people who claim to follow Jesus but whose actions violate Jesus’ teaching.
Fagan pointed to Jesus’ words in the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus warned people would be judged by how they treated “the least of these,” which is the same as how they treated him.
“Evangelicals believe in the authority and lordship of Jesus,” Fagan said. “So, what you do to these people (Dreamers), you do to Jesus, and there are consequences for the destroying of your soul. …
“When people say, ‘Make America Great Again,’ they’re talking about European colonialism. … It’s not a holy vision; it’s racist.”
Deporting Dreamers to countries they cannot remember “is like some sick fraternity hazing practice,” he said. “It’s a soul-imperiling sin.”
The response of U.S. Christians to DACA is vital for the future of Dreamers, stressed Jorge Zayasbazan, host pastor of Baptist Temple, a congregation affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
“Congress is waiting to see what their constituents want them to do,” he said, urging Christians to express their “hopes for Dreamers” to their lawmakers.
Rucker Preston, executive director of the Texas Christian Community Development Network, echoed those sentiments, urging Christians to tell their lawmakers to act in support of DACA and Dreamers.
“Every single phone call, every email will be counted,” he said. “Our lawmakers want nothing more than to stay in office. Make a phone call; send an email. It takes just a few minutes.”
Advocacy on behalf of Dreamers is worth the effort, said Luis Juarez, director of missions and spiritual life at Baptist University of the Américas. “I know so many Dreamers, and I am so proud of them.
“Dreamers are 4.0 (perfect grade-point) students. Dreamers are hard-working. And even though they came here from Nicaragua, or El Salvador, or Mexico …, this is all they know, their nation, their home.”
Dreamers are not asking for a free ride, Juarez added, noting they are productive and contribute enormously to the social, cultural and economic well-being of the United States.
DACA makes sense, not only for the Dreamers and their families, but also for the nation, according to the National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders. For example:
• DACA has shielded about 800,000 young people from deportation since 2012.
• The vast majority of DACA recipients are employed and bilingual. All have passed background checks. Their average age is 25, and they arrived in the United States at less than 7 years old.
• Nearly half of them are enrolled in school. One-third have earned a bachelor’s degree or an advanced degree. Those enrolled in college are working on at least a bachelor’s degree.
• The loss of all DACA workers would cut the U.S. gross domestic product by an estimated $433 billion during the next decade. The estimated gross domestic product loss for Texas alone is $6.1 billion to $6.3 billion per year.
For information on how to contact your lawmakers, go to: http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx
Photo: Karina Alvarez describes the hopes and aspirations of Dreamers during a rally at Baptist Temple in San Antonio Nov. 28.