By / Mar 16

A growing number of children are arriving at the southern border without parents or guardians in hopes of migrating into the United States. These child migrants are legally referred to as Unaccompanied Alien Children (UACs). This surge in arrivals of UACs is creating a humanitarian crisis out of an already difficult situation for border towns and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as U.S. Border Patrol facilities are stretched far beyond their capacity.

How many children are arriving at the U.S. southern border?

According to a report from CBS, in the month of February 2021 alone, “nearly 9,500 unaccompanied children were taken into U.S. border custody — a 21-month high, according to government data.” As of March 2, a complex in Donna, Texas that was designed to hold 250 people was housing more than 1,800 people according to a report from the Associated Press. This crowding is made worse because of the battle against COVID-19 as it is “729% of its pandemic-era capacity.” In a story published by CNN, Leecia Welch of the National Center for Youth Law said, “Donna is quickly becoming a humanitarian crisis.”

Earlier today, March 16, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas released a statement noting that the department is “on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years.”

What are the conditions like for children on the border?

Many of the children in this facility describe harsh conditions and hunger. The CBS report noted that some children told their lawyers they “only showered once in seven days” and that the facility was so overcrowded “they had to take turns sleeping on the floor.” The situation’s urgency grows as the boys and girls are also reportedly being denied the ability to phone their parents or see their siblings of the opposite sex as they are held in single gender facilities. 

How is this connected to America’s larger immigration problem?

First, the challenges of this current crisis are in part the result of President Biden’s decision to end former President Trump’s practice of expelling all border aphrensions, which included sending children back into situations of potential danger. Expulsion was the policy in place for most of 2020 without much public awareness, though the ERLC and coalition partners then called the Trump Administration to take a more humane approach, specifically for vulnerable children.

While this 2021 crisis is new in its particulars, the situation does have similarities with previous UAC surges. As an example of a similar crisis, after an AP report in 2019 showed unconscionable conditions for children at a border facility near El Paso, the ERLC published an explainer to give further context to the issues which shape these problems. The piece also outlines how migrant children are treated differently by immigration law and what reforms could blunt future issues.

Today, both the strain on border facilities and the woes facing these kids are distressingly familiar to what our nation has seen too many times. This 2021 crisis is yet another result of the dysfunctional immigration system in the U.S. that Congress has refused to reform for decades. Our nation’s border problems have been exacerbated over the last decade in particular by spikes of violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras coupled with increasing resistance in American politics to foriegn aid. It’s difficult for most Americans to imagine how desperate a family’s circumstance must be to choose to send their children on a dangerous journey unaccompanied in hopes of a better life.

What is going wrong right now?

As the AP reported, “more children are waiting longer in Border Patrol custody,” with 37 days being the average length of stay. This time lapse is the key failure of this crisis — the failure to process children swiftly into the stable care required by federal law.

Unaccompanied children are to be processed by DHS and transferred within three to five days to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). We wrote about the unique legal treatment our government is supposed to honor with UACs in our 2019 explainer:

At the center of the government’s policies toward child migrants is a 1997 consent decree known as the Flores Settlement Agreement. Flores directs that children who are unaccompanied or who have been removed from their parents during the process of immigrating are to be transferred to a licensed facility within three to five days of apprehension, and a max of 20 days during times of emergency influx, according to the nonprofit Human Rights First. . . . The Flores Settlement also lays out housing condition standards, including the requirement of “safe and sanitary facilities” among many others, all while the government makes a “prompt and continuous effort toward family reunification and release” for children.

What is the U.S. government doing about the issue?

It is clear that there is not yet a sufficient federal government response to ensure the adequate care of these children. On March 13, the Biden Administration announced it was enlisting FEMA to help. The administration is also planning to shelter migrant children at a conference center in Dallas, as they await processing with HHS ORR. For more, you can read Sec. Mayorkas’ statement highlighting the department’s actions. Their plans include standing up more shelters, working with Mexico to receive expelled adult migrants, and a variety of COVID19 protocols for migrants and DHS staff. 

How has the SBC engaged the immigration reform debate?

In 2018, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution calling for immigration reform that “maintains the priority of family unity.” This resolution prioritizes “honoring the value and dignity of those seeking a better life for themselves and their families” in light of the “warfare, violence, disease, extreme poverty … driving millions of people to leave their homelands.” The 2018 messengers also passed a resolution on human dignity in which the messengers affirmed “the full dignity of every human being of whatever political or legal status or party and denounce rhetoric that diminishes the humanity of anyone.” In 2011, SBC messengers passed a resolution denouncing the mistreatment of migrants and calling for immigration reform that would “implement, with the borders secured, a just and compassionate path to legal status.”

The resolutions on immigration echo the language of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, which affirms the sacredness and dignity of human beings made in God’s image. The BFM also affirms Christians’ responsibility to speak on behalf of the helpless and the needy and work for human institutions to reflect God’s righteousness. 

How is the ERLC advocating on this issue?

The ERLC has long advocated for immigration reform that would accord with biblical principles. In 2014, Russell Moore wrote about the growing number of unaccompanied children arriving at the border then, calling it a “humanitarian crisis” and calling Christians to “recognize both the complexity of this situation and what it means to be people of justice and mercy.” Moore’s words continue to anchor our advocacy today:

When responding to the vulnerable, our greatest obstacle isn’t the question of knowing what to do. Our greatest obstacle is fear. The Samaritan in Jesus’ parable (Lk. 10:27-37) has every reason to be afraid on the Road to Jericho. The presence of a beaten man tells him there are robbers around, potentially hiding in the caves around him. Fear, though, is cast out by love; love is not cast out by fear. … The situation at the southern border is frightening indeed, for multiple reasons. Border security is important for the physical safety of any nation, and the care of those fleeing danger is important for the moral integrity of any people.

Central to our advocacy is our work with the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT). The EIT is a diverse group of organizations that speak up for the vulnerable and call for better policies. A few policies the EIT has called for to address these border crises involving children include supplemental funding for facilities, additional personnel trained to care for children, respect for asylum laws and family unity, and restoration of foreign aid to the countries these migrants are fleeing.

A few weeks ago on the Capitol Conversations podcast, as news began to surface of this impending crisis, Jeff Pickering and Travis Wussow welcomed Laura Collins, an immigration expert with the George W. Bush Institute, to discuss border policy solutions. You can listen to that conversation here.

What happens next?

The federal government must ensure that children currently in border patrol custody are transferred as soon as possible to HHS ORR who is better equipped to shelter as well as test and quarantine the children if needed due to the pandemic. Once with HHS ORR, the children are then connected with sponsors, who are typically family members but can also include foster families. According to Sec. Mayorkas, “in more than 80 percent of cases, the child has a family member in the United States. In more than 40 percent of cases, that family member is a parent or legal guardian.”

What is clear is that additional resources are needed at the border to ensure that children who arrive here are safe, fed, and treated with the dignity and respect they deserve as our legal system determines the best way forward for them.

By / Mar 3

We want to help you think well about immigration, especially as news reports grow over potential surges of unaccompanied minors at the U.S. southern border. How do we care for immigrants well and celebrate immigration as important to America while also not creating a magnet for a border crisis? Jeff Pickering and Travis Wussow welcome Laura Collins to the roundtable to help answer that question.

Guest Biography

Laura Collins serves as Director, Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute. Collins previously served as the Director of Immigration Policy at the American Action Forum. She has experience in politics, working as a Senior Research Analyst at the Republican National Committee for the 2012 election cycle and in the Texas House of Representatives for the 82nd Legislature. A former practicing attorney, Collins earned a JD from The University of Texas School of Law and a BBA from the University of Oklahoma.

Resources from the Conversation

By / Feb 12

In the opening lines of last week’s executive order addressing the country’s refugee program, President Biden wrote, “the long tradition of the United States as a leader in refugee resettlement provides a beacon of hope for persecuted people around the world.” Sadly, the rising tide of nationalism in our politics has dimmed that once bright light. There is much work to be done if America is to, in Biden’s words, lead again. Critical to that work is the rebuilding of a refugee resettlement program that honors our nation’s rich history of welcoming the world’s most vulnerable.

The President is charged with determining the maximum number of people allowed entry through the refugee process. The number, while set by the White House, represents an annual conclusion of a worthwhile debate throughout Washington. It’s a debate in which the ERLC is regularly engaged.

During the 2020 campaign, President Biden promised to “set the annual global refugee admissions cap to 125,000, and seek to raise it over time.” While the administration’s recent executive order marks an encouraging move toward relighting that beacon, the refugee ceiling is the critical next step.

Among other directives, the order begins a wide ranging review of the federal government’s refugee resettlement procedures. For example, the order directs the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security to designate a senior-level employee in their departments to focus on the refugee application process. Among the specific reviews ordered is the nation’s policy which grants Special Immigrant Visas for Iraqi and Afghan allies.

The refugee program has long enjoyed both broad bipartisan support in Congress and in the communities these men and women have enriched, including many Southern Baptist churches. The vetting procedures for refugees were already the strongest of any category of immigrants, and these security procedures have been further strengthened. This program tells an important story about who we are as a nation. It has enabled remarkable talents to become Americans and pursue the American dream such as Vietnamese refugee David Tran who created the popular Sriracha hot sauce.

Since the Refugee Act of 1980, the resettlement ceiling before the Trump Administration ranged from as high as 230,000 to as low 67,000. The historic average over the decades hovered near 95,000. President Trump first set the refugee ceiling at 50,000 in 2017 and then cut it each year, leaving it at 15,000 for 2021.

This precipitous drop not only closed the door to many of our own brothers and sisters abroad in the persecuted church seeking safe harbor, but it also starved the resettlement pipeline needed to provide that harbor in America. Integrating these families seeking refuge in our local communities requires the ongoing partnership of government offices and non-profit agencies. Without refugees moving through the line, many agencies shutter. This leaves our future capability to serve in peril.

The Evangelical Immigration Table, of which the ERLC is a member, responded last Friday to President Biden’s order noting both appreciation of this first step but also urging him to follow through on his commitment to officially raise the ceiling.

In the EIT press release, Russell Moore, president of the ERLC, explained how, “our advocacy for religious minorities in peril around the world, whether they be Uyghurs in China or Christians in Syria, is a priority of our work at the ERLC.” Moore also said it was his “prayer that Christians will lead the revitalization of America’s commitment to be a beacon of freedom and safe harbor for the oppressed and persecuted.”

As vaccines and treatments help the world climb out from under the coronavirus pandemic, we ought to use this time of restricted global travel to rebuild the resettlement infrastructure. We should invest now in the infrastructure needed for overseas processing and help resettlement agencies in the U.S. rebuild so that when our door is able to be reopened, our welcome mat is ready. Instrumental to this process are faith-based organizations who partner with local churches to welcome refugees as our new American neighbors.

By / Jan 28

Lisa Cathcart, in her role as executive director at the Pregnancy Care Center (PCC) in Nashville, Tennessee, leads her team to serve women, men, and families in the greater Nashville area facing unplanned pregnancies. Their work has grown to include a special focus on the needs of those from immigrant communities. The spirit of their work and ability to adapt is an example to all of us who seek to serve our communities, as they truly are, and honor the dignity of all people. 

How did you become aware of the immigrant community in the Nashville area? From where are they coming?

Nashville has been a destination for immigrant populations for quite some time. Most area residents are aware of the various immigrant populations that have come to call Nashville home. However, unless one is intentional about engaging with our new neighbors, it is fairly easy to ignore or miss the important contributions they have made to our society and the richness they bring to our communities. At the Pregnancy Care Center we have a heart for serving vulnerable and marginalized populations. As a ministry that exists to affirm the worth, dignity, and sanctity of all human life, I believe we are uniquely positioned to accept and receive newcomers to our country and community, extending the same compassion and grace to this vulnerable population as we do toward the unborn and the women and men facing a pregnancy decision. 

The Pregnancy Care Center first started serving immigrant populations about six years ago when two women from Egypt were referred to us by a Nashville health clinic where they were participating in childbirth education. These expectant moms found themselves trying to navigate not only a new life in a new place far from home, but also the role of parenting in a country with different laws and vastly different customs—all without the support of the multigenerational influences and involvement that they had been raised with. Although both women were Arabic speaking and from the same country, they came from very different backgrounds. They practiced different religions, Islam and Coptic Christianity. One was a highly educated professional and the other was from more humble circumstances. One spoke English, and the other did not. One was a first-time mom, and one had older children. 

Yet despite their differences, they had formed a friendship and found their way to the PCC together. As they began to see the value in the relationships they were forming with the staff and volunteers at the PCC and in the assistance they received, each went back to their own communities and spread the word about the Center’s services. Very quickly, the number of immigrants who were seeking our services began to grow to the extent that at one point, more than 50 percent of Parenting Support cases/visits were with immigrant families. Over the past two years 32 percent of all visits of any type have been with individuals from other countries. 

We have now served individuals and families from 38 countries of origin and at least eight unique faith backgrounds. We have ministered to individuals from the Middle East, Africa, Central America, South America, and Asia. Those who are Arabic speaking continue to represent the largest immigrant population we are serving. Among Arabic-speaking families — which include both Coptic Christians and Muslims — many share histories of war torn countries, poverty, and religious persecution.  

What are you doing to serve the immigrant community in our area? What are their needs and unique challenges? 

Serving recent immigrants has presented unique challenges for staff at the Pregnancy Care Center as we work with women and families who are at the beginning stages of acclimating to Western culture. Our ministry is committed to providing holistic care that goes beyond what can be done by simply handing someone a pack of diapers. Too many services and experiences in our lives are transactional in nature. We are more interested in transformation, which can only come about through relationship with one another and with Christ. Many of the immigrant populations initially coming to the center have been told that they can “get free diapers,” etc. We have struggled through language and cultural barriers to communicate that the material assistance we provide is only available through participation in our Parent Support initiative, which involves meeting with a PCC team member one on one, or in a group setting, to complete a prenatal or parenting lesson, mentoring session, and/or Bible study. 

While this relational approach is our goal, it is very difficult to accomplish without an interpreter. Over the past few years, we have been continually adjusting our policies and experimenting with different ways of providing care to our new neighbors, while being careful to guard against mission drift and often struggling with compassion fatigue that comes with difficult cross-cultural ministry. 

Before having to pause group class offerings due to COVID-19, we were offering two group Parent Support sessions each month, specifically for Arabic-speaking clients with the help of a paid translator. By offering group classes we are able to serve these families by building relationships, offering meaningful practical instruction and assistance, while at the same time remain focused on our mission of serving individuals facing a life-altering pregnancy decision. 

The group sessions include a devotional, practical parenting lesson, and time for sharing and prayer. Afterward, participants “shop” in our “store” where they can pick out items needed for their children using points they have earned for their participation in Parent Support. Individuals who are fluent in conversational English are also eligible to schedule one-on-one appointments outside of group offerings. In addition to the Arabic groups, we have some Spanish-speaking volunteers who come to assist on a regular basis. Over the past year as we’ve had to reimagine how we deliver services during a global pandemic. We have served the needs of these diverse populations through virtual visits and curbside material assistance. 

We are very intentional about speaking words of affirmation in order to connect people with their worth and dignity as a child of God. We’ve had meetings with community leaders who can help us understand more about the cultures our clients come from—how to speak or sit, how to interact with our body language, how to navigate some of the challenges we face, and ultimately how to build bridges between our cultures in order to minister more effectively. So, whether helping with housing needs, health insurance questions, job applications, or learning to react properly to a client who tries to barter for material aid, we are continually learning as we go. 

How do you want individuals to feel when they arrive at your center?  

It is our hope that everyone who walks through our doors will have a sense that they matter. We have intentionally and prayerfully created a space that is inviting and welcoming to all. It is our prayer that individuals feel safe and welcome, no matter where they have come from or what difficulties and fears they are currently facing. Before our staff even speaks a word, we want the environment to communicate a message that elevates someone’s sense of dignity and worth. 

Too many services and experiences in our lives are transactional in nature. We are more interested in transformation, which can only come about through relationship with one another and with Christ.

Because the lives of those we serve are often filled with chaos and uncertainty, we offer a calming reassurance that they are not alone. Some of our staff have even learned basic Arabic phrases to extend meaningful greetings and expressions of hospitality so that our Arabic-speaking clients feel seen and valued. 

Everyday the team of staff and volunteers at the PCC begin with prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to fill us and the Center with his presence so that everyone we serve will encounter the love of Christ in a meaningful, tangible way. 

From your perspective, how do the needs of an immigrant change the longer they have been in the country?

As we work with immigrants and build relationships we see how assimilation changes people. In some ways, we see amazing growth and exciting new opportunities for families to flourish. In other ways, we are disappointed by how Western culture can influence individuals. 

Initially, we may be helping to advocate for individuals as they navigate the complexities of adjusting to life here. We make phone calls to various agencies on their behalf, sit at a computer with someone to fill out an online form, explain terminology on applications and documents, and demonstrate how to use and install a car seat, etc. As our relationships grow we sometimes become aware of emotional or spiritual concerns that we can speak into such as questions about the gospel, or even how to identify abuse in a relationship. We are able to educate women on the rights they have that they may not have had access to before, and we can empower people to seek and find safety when necessary. 

When many immigrants face an unplanned or crisis pregnancy, the stakes are extremely high, especially if the relationship is outside of their faith or culture. Sadly, the more assimilated to Western culture an immigrant is, the more vulnerable to abortion they become. Some come from a culture that does not even have a word in their language for abortion, but now they are presented with an option that they have been told will allow them to avoid the shame and pain of unintended pregnancy. Where marriage is an expectation and sexual purity a priority, assimilation sometimes leads to casual and promiscuous relationships. 

How would you encourage the Christians in your community to pray for and minister to these immigrant populations? 

Whenever I think of the refugees and immigrants in our community, I think of the Golden Rule that Jesus taught us. I ask myself how I would want to be treated if I found myself separated from most of my friends and family, starting a life in a new country. I would desperately want others to show patience with me as I attempt to speak a new language. I would want caring people to gently explain practices within this new culture that do not make sense to me. I would want to be welcomed as an image-bearer of God and valued as someone who can make a positive contribution to our community. I would long for friendship! Let’s pray that we as Christians will be the example in our community of radical hospitality to the stranger and foreigner as we see modeled in the people of God from the Old Testament to the New Testament.  

By / Aug 4

The 2019-2020 term of the Supreme Court was one for the history books. The justice’s rulings give Christians a lot to consider on issues ranging from religious liberty and civil rights law to abortion jurisprudence and immigration rules. The ERLC filed amicus briefs in a number of these cases and our brief was cited by Justice Alito in the court’s opinion in the Guadalupe religious liberty victory.

Russell Moore and Jeff Pickering joined the Capitol Hill ministry, Faith & Law, for a Friday forum event to reflect on what happened and what’s next.

Faith & Law is a community of congressional staffers and Members of Congress that meet regularly to think deeply about how our faith informs and impacts our calling to the public square. Their mission is to encourage and equip Christian policy-makers to more fully understand the Biblical worldview and its implication in their calling to the public square.

Resources from the Conversation

By / Jul 21

Travis Wussow, Chelsea Patterson Sobolik, and Jeff Pickering discuss the policy issues the ERLC team is working on in Washington, D.C. The team talks about the latest developments on immigration policy, including a recent win on international student visas, Phase IV COVID-19 relief negotiations, pro-life policies among appropriations bills, and how a viral video is sparking new attention on China’s human rights atrocities.

Resources from the Conversation

By / Jul 7

On June 18, 2020, the Supreme Court released their decision for the case Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California regarding the status of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. On this episode, Travis and Jeff speak with Jose Ocampo on his personal experience as a Dreamer and what is next for Dreamers after the Supreme Court’s recent decision. 

Guest Biography

Jose Ocampo is a “Dreamer” and DACA recipient who has recently graduated from Wingate University with a Bachelor of Science in Marketing. He is currently serving as the worship and youth associate at Iglesia Bautista de Hickory Grove in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Resources from the Conversation

By / Jun 18

Today, the Supreme Court released a long-awaited decision regarding the status of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. In 2017, the Trump administration decided to end the Obama-era executive immigration program. The question before the court was whether the rollback process was done correctly.

The two issues the Supreme Court was asked to rule on in this case were:

  1. Whether the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) decision to wind down the DACA program is judicially reviewable; and
  2. whether DHS’s decision to wind down the DACA policy was lawful.

In a closely divided 5-4 decision, the justices ruled yes to the first question and no to the second. Writing for the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts said the decision to wind down DACA was judicially reviewable and that the administration’s rescission of the policy program was “arbitrary and capricious” and violated the Administrative Procedures Act. As a result, for now, DACA stands. The 5-4 decision today included Justices Roberts, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan in the majority, with Justices Alito, Gorsuch, Thomas, and Kavanaugh in the minority. Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion of the court while Justice Sotomayor wrote a concurring opinion. Justice Thomas wrote the main dissenting opinion of the court alongside the agreement of Justices Gorsuch and Alito. Additionally, Justice Kavanaugh wrote a dissenting opinion in today’s case.

What is DACA?

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is an immigration policy the Obama Administration implemented by executive action in 2012. The policy gives temporary legal status to a special category of undocumented children in the U.S., commonly referred to as “Dreamers.”

Deferred action is a use of prosecutorial discretion in immigration cases to defer deportation for a certain period of time. Through this executive action, President Obama directed the Department of Homeland Security to consider requests for deferred action for certain people who came to the U.S. as children and met qualifications similar to the DREAM Act. This is why people who qualify for DACA are sometimes referred to as “Dreamers.”

The DREAM Act has been proposed many times in the past 20 years but has not passed Congress. The legislation would grant lawful permanent resident status on a conditional basis to young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as minors, and meet a variety of standards such as being of “good moral character,” committing to military service, and obtaining an education.

An earlier article from the ERLC explains DACA and the DREAM Act in more detail.

What is this case about?

Several cases, including Trump v. NAACP and Wolf v. Vidal, were consolidated under one case, Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California, to settle the question of whether the Trump administration properly followed the Administrative Procedure Act when it began to phase out the DACA program.

In 2017, President Trump directed the Department of Homeland Security to begin to phase out the DACA policy. The current administration stated that because President Obama did not have specific statutory authority and because the program did not have an explicit deadline, the DACA program was an unconstitutional exercise of Executive Branch power.

Shortly after the rollback began, several lawsuits were filed claiming that the administration’s rescission was a violation of the Administrative Procedures Act, a law that details executive decision making processes. The plaintiffs also claimed that rescinding the DACA policy was done with discriminatory motives and it deprived its recipients of constitutionally protected liberties without due process in violation of the 14th Amendment.

Why is this case significant?

These young men and women are undocumented by no fault of their own. They were brought to this country by their parents as minors. We do not hold minors accountable for legal decisions they are unable to make. These young men and women are our neighbors, fellow church members, classmates, and colleagues.

For those currently with legal status from DACA, it should be recognized that they took the government at its word to come forward and submit to this program. Since then, they have lawfully lived, worked, and paid taxes in the U.S. Not only should they not be held accountable  for breaking our immigration laws when they were minors, we should also recognize that these men and women stepped forward when our government gave them an option.

The men and women who participated in the DACA program have demonstrated they are good neighbors who contribute positively to our country. They have proven this by pursuing education, working and paying taxes, sacrificially serving in our military, and rejecting lives of crime.

Was the ERLC involved in this case?

While the ERLC did not file an amicus brief in this case, Southern Baptists have long advocated for immigration reforms, particularly to protect this special category of young men and women from unjust deportation.

Responding to today’s ruling, Russell Moore, president of the ERLC, said that while the court’s decision “might address an immediate question of administrative law, it does not, ultimately, protect our vulnerable neighbors.” Moore then challenged the country to take immediate action:

“Dreamers are not an abstraction. They are people created in the image of God, who were brought here as children by their parents. Their entire lives are at stake right now. There is no sending these people ‘back’—in many cases they have no memory at all of the land of their parents’ origin. Those who have lived as good neighbors and contributed so greatly to our country should be protected from the constant threat of having their lives upended. That will take action by the United States Congress. Most Americans agree on this question, which is quite a feat in times as divided as these. Congress should move immediately to protect our Dreamer neighbors.”

What happens to DACA recipients now?

For now, the DACA program continues and these young men and women are able to continue living and working lawfully in this country. But today’s decision provides only temporary relief and security because the Trump administration could still rescind the program as the question before the justices today was one of procedure. Ultimately, immigration law is the responsibility of Congress, and they should act to fix our broken system. The Southern Baptist Convention has urged Congress to pass immigration reform as evidenced by the 2006 Southern Baptist Resolution.

The ERLC believes the only sustainable way forward for DACA recipients is for Congress to legislate a path to legal permanent resident status and, eventually, citizenship. In October 2017, we released an Evangelical Statement of Principles on Dreamers with over 50 original signatories urging Congress to take action and develop a bipartisan solution. Messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention of 2018 also explicitly urged Congress to develop a “just and compassionate path to legal status” for undocumented immigrants already living in our country. Dreamers need a permanent solution that is not subject to the cycle of executives or the makeup of judicial benches.

ERLC interns Seth Billingsley, Sloan Collier, Jackson McNeece, and Julia Stamper contributed to this article.

By / May 4

One of the bright spots of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the immediate and innovative responses of churches to help their local communities. There are countless stories of Christians caring for vulnerable adults, providing meals to healthcare workers, and offering support to those who have recently become unemployed.  

There are some needs, however, that can easily be overlooked, especially in times like these when the gaps between social circles are disproportionately wide. Our immigrant and refugee neighbors are among those whose needs often fly under the radar. Many of these individuals and families were already facing significant challenges before the coronavirus began to spread. With the virus reaching pandemic level, those challenges have increased exponentially. As U.S. Sens. James Lankford and Patrick Leahy argued in a bi-partisan letter to the State Department, refugees and certain immigrant visa holders “are among the most vulnerable populations during this global COVID-19 pandemic.”  

In addition, several drastic changes to immigration policies and benefits have been enacted during this lockdown period, and many immigration court dockets are delayed indefinitely. This means thousands of cases will remain unresolved for prolonged periods and could even result in expired documentation for many who could have otherwise had their papers renewed. Such complications and the recent executive order from the White House have clearly heightened concerns and insecurity among immigrants and refugees.  

In a recent interview for a Christianity Today article, I broached the subject of practical ways the Church can serve our immigrant and refugee neighbors during this pandemic. I want to expand further on those ideas, and present seven ways we can serve our immigrant and refugee neighbors right now.

We can demonstrate the love of Christ to our immigrant and refugee neighbors by helping to meet their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs in his name, and share with them the most important message they could ever hear.

1. Reach out personally to your immigrant and refugee neighbors. With so many in-person services and organizations closed to the public, including most of those provided by our churches, this is a great time to take the initiative to reach out to someone personally. Many immigrants and refugees are facing higher levels of fear, stress, insecurity, separation, and loneliness. Though we may not be able to visit them in person, most are easy to communicate with using texting, social media messaging, or other social apps such as WhatsApp and Viber.

2. Ensure individuals and families receive and understand community-wide health and safety communications. Language and cultural barriers make it difficult for some to fully understand the reasons behind the “steps to slow the spread,” such as social distancing. This can be of particular concern for immigrant and refugee churches, some of whom have continued meeting in groups simply because they have not accessed or interpreted CDC or health department guidelines adequately. Those of us who are more connected can help others who are not by disseminating and interpreting this vital information for them. USA Hello has set up a helpful website to help communicate this information. Other helpful resources with multiple languages include DSHS and these COVID-19 facts sheets

3. Look to address job and income insecurity. The economic impact we are all feeling has hit immigrant and refugee households hard as well. It has been well-documented that many immigrants serve in healthcare and other critical support industries such as food supply, transportation, maintenance, and manufacturing. These jobs are often performed in environments where social distancing is not possible, resulting in elevated risk factors for workers and their families. On the other hand, many others are self-employed, small business owners, or employed in nonessential entities. In addition, many immigrant workers are not eligible to receive a coronavirus stimulus payment. Here are a couple practical ideas:

  • Order take out or buy gift cards from immigrant-owned restaurants or businesses as a way to provide them earned income. 
  • Be part of the “Share Your Stimulus” movement where people who continue to receive paychecks or have a stronger financial foundation are sharing stories of using their coronavirus stimulus to help those who are struggling financially, and are encouraging others to do the same. 

4. Keep an eye out for concerns regarding mental and emotional health. Many immigrants and refugees already deal with trauma-related illness or difficulties because of past experiences. Consider the additional strain added to those who have been further separated from loved ones and cannot care for them as they previously could. These problems are often worsened by a lack of education and awareness of basic concerns related to mental and emotional health. In some cultures, there is a stigma associated with seeking mental health treatment. Mental health resources are also limited for those without financial resources. USA Hello’s website is a good starting place for information and resources regarding mental health among immigrants and refugees.

5. Learn from and serve alongside your immigrant and refugee neighbors. One of the most common mistakes made by churches and missionaries is viewing ministry to others as one-directional. Our immigrant and refugee neighbors have much to contribute in many different areas, and they are eager to do so. In our own church, a Chinese Christian couple has provided thousands of N95 masks for healthcare workers in Oklahoma, New York City, and China. We’ve also had a group of refugee women who have been sewing and distributing medical masks and caps for several weeks. It is also important to remember that many immigrants and refugees have survived the gravest of circumstances and can offer a great deal of knowledge and experience to benefit others.

6. Invite your immigrant and refugee neighbors to join your online services. If your church is currently broadcasting services or producing other media content; invite your immigrant and refugee neighbor to watch. I’m confident you will find many who will not only say “yes” to your invitation; they will also follow through by logging on to your broadcasts. Our church has seen a measurable increase in the involvement of our international families during this time. We hope this will help us recapture some of the momentum we’ve lost by not being able to conduct our church and local ministries in person. Online services may actually be a preferred way for some to visit your church for the first time because many of the barriers they may perceive in terms of being welcomed are removed. Subtitles and text banners on videos can also be helpful in improving cross-cultural communication.

7. Look for opportunities to introduce or discuss the gospel to your immigrant and refugee neighbors. I’ve heard from many in our church who have been approached directly by friends, neighbors, or colleagues from another faith asking specifically about how the Christian faith teaches us to navigate these times. I’ve personally been contacted by multiple Muslim-background friends who want to know more about how the Bible addresses our current crisis. There has never been a better time to introduce the good news about Jesus into conversations and interactions with those from other faiths and cultures.

Hearts are open and opportunities abound in times of greatest need. I believe the Church is poised to take the lead in moments like these and provide hope in ways no one else can. We can demonstrate the love of Christ to our immigrant and refugee neighbors by helping to meet their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs in his name, and share with them the most important message they could ever hear.  

Recommended video resource: Kent Annan of Wheaton College’s Humanitarian Disaster Institute interviews Jenny Yang, Durmomo Gary, and Matt Soerens of World Relief on this topic.   

By / Nov 15

What just happened?

The Supreme Court is considering the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program which gives temporary legal status to undocumented children in the U.S., commonly referred to as “Dreamers.” The program was created by the Obama Administration and rescinded by the Trump Administration.

What is DACA?

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a policy President Obama implemented by executive action in 2010.

Deferred action is a use of prosecutorial discretion in immigration cases to defer removal action against an individual for a certain period of time. President Obama directed the Department of Homeland Security to consider requests for deferred action for certain people who came to the U.S. as children and met qualifications similar to the DREAM Act. (This is why people who qualify for DACA are sometimes referred to as “Dreamers.”)

Those who fill out the required form and qualify for eligibility are allowed to remain, legally work, and/or attend college in the U.S. for a period of two years. As long as they continue to meet the criteria, they are exempt from deportation during the period of deferred action and may be allowed to renew the deferment.

Who are “Dreamers?”

The term “Dreamers” (sometimes DREAMers) refers to young undocumented immigrants who would qualify under the DREAM Act for permanent residency in the U.S. The DREAM Act (an acronym for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) is proposed federal legislation that would provide permanent resident status on a conditional basis for certain long-term residents who entered the U.S. as children.

Even though the DREAM Act was never passed, the term “Dreamers” is still sometimes used to describe young, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as minors, are pursuing or have pursued education, and have never been convicted of felonies or multiple misdemeanors.

What is the DREAM Act?

The bipartisan act would grant lawful permanent resident status on a conditional basis to young, undocumented immigrants who meet the following qualifications:

  • Demonstrate that they were 17 years old or younger when they were brought to the U.S. and that they have been in the U.S. continuously for the last 4 years
  • Pass a government background check, establish “good moral character,” which means they have had no felony convictions or multiple misdemeanor convictions, and pass a medical exam
  • Establish that they have obtained or are in the process of obtaining a college degree or high school diploma
  • Pay a fee

The conditional permanent resident status is valid for eight years but may be terminated if it’s determined the person ceases to meet the admissibility criteria, has a serious criminal conviction, or is found to have participated in the persecution of U.S. citizens.

Various versions of this act were introduced in 2001, 2006, 2007, and from 2009 to 2012, though none have yet passed in Congress. Efforts by Congress in 2018 to implement a replacement to DACA in 2018 failed, resulting in a three-day government shutdown.

How many people are currently DACA recipients?

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, as of June 30, the approximate number of active DACA recipients is 660,880. An additional 35,680 are pending renewal.

Where are DACA recipients from, and where do they reside in the U.S.?

The vast majority are from Mexico (80%), followed by El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Peru. But countries with more than 1,000 recipients include Nigeria, Poland, and South Korea.

While recipients reside in all 50 states, more than half live in California, Texas, and Illinois.

Are people under DACA on a path to U.S. citizenship?

No, nor do they have “lawful status” for the purpose of immigration laws. DACA allows immigrants to obtain a “lawful presence” in the U.S. but not a “lawful status.” In other words, they are still considered to be here unlawfully, but they are legally allowed to stay in the U.S. during their deferment.

What is the Supreme Court being asked to decide?

The justices will first decide whether the government’s decision to end DACA is a matter the courts can review at all. The Trump administration says they have the discretion to overturn previous policies of executive branch agencies, like the DHS.

If the Court rules that the issue is one of judicial review, they will then decide whether the Trump administration’s decision to end DACA violated the Administrative Procedure Act, a federal law governing administrative agencies. Lower courts ruled that it did, and ordered the government to retain DACA.

The Court will issue its final ruling in May or June of 2020.

What happens if DACA is overturned?

If the Supreme Court allows the Trump administration to repeal DACA, Congress could once again attempt to move forward on the DREAM Act. In a tweet on Tuesday, President Trump said, “If Supreme Court remedies with overturn, a deal will be made with Dems for them to stay!” But it’s unlikely a legislative remedy will be in place before the next election.