How might we find our way Biblically around DACA? If the Bible is our compass and guide, what might we find that would give us direction as believers on various immigration issues such as DACA? And what insights can we gain to discern about the construction of walls? As one following the legislation currently being debated, lawmakers are considering tying the building of a wall between Mexico and the US to DACA legislation. As a means of self disclosure, I favor a comprehensive immigration reform to create a better, more humane immigration system in this country.
What is DACA?
DACA recipients are the DREAMERS who long to be welcome and have a future within the country they grew up. DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. What that means is that if a person came as a child, deportation action could be deferred. Those who came to this country as children did not have the ability to choose but came with their parents. Many young people who came as children grew up in this country and it is the only country they have ever known. According to a Supreme Court decision in the 1980’s, the court determined that it was in the best interests of this nation that unauthorized children should be allowed to receive a public education. We have approximately 790,000 unauthorized immigrants who have received DACA status. DACA was to be renewable every two years provided the conditions were met.
What does DACA status confer on recipients?
DACA recipients can work and attend college in the US without penalty or fear of deportation. In return the students would need to stay out of trouble, drugs and any other illegal activity, plus they would need to be working or attending college or school. DACA recipients are not allowed to file permanent residency nor are they allowed to file for citizenship unless legislative action is taken and a pathway to residency and citizenship is established.
What are the issues around DACA?
DACA was suspended through executive order by President Trump. Many DACA recipients have two years remaining of their deferred action status. Others are currently in limbo as their deferred action will run out and they can be deported. President Trump has placed DACA solutions in the hands of Congress and the Senate. President Trump has also directed the legislative bodies to include funding for a wall along the Mexican/US border and discontinue family-based immigration.
What principles can we draw from the Bible that apply to DACA and the issues surrounding it?
First Principle: Each person is accountable for their own actions
Even untrained Bible readers can clearly see that the children of lawbreakers are not to be held responsible for the choices of their parents.
Ezekiel 18:19 says this: “‘What?’ you ask. ‘Doesn’t the child pay for the parent’s sins?’ No! For if the child does what is just and right and keeps my decrees, that child will surely live.
In many societies, it was common for the children to be penalized for the sins of their parents. However, the Bible does not direct believers to such a code. The principle laid out is this: each person is accountable for his or her own actions and not the actions of parents or other family members. Laws that punish children for actions of their family or parents goes directly against the grain of scripture. Further, the DACA legislation applies only to those students who are not involved in gangs or other illegal activity. They are students who are working or attending college. Many of the recipients are assets to our communities working in tech fields, medicine, education, finance etc. They are hard working productive people.
Second Principle: Treat Immigrants among you as Citizens.
Leviticus 19:13 The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.
This scripture also is very clear. God’s people are to treat foreigners and immigrants as native-born people. The people in that time did not have such things as papers to decide who is and who is not eligible to be in a particular country. The idea of determining who is and who is not eligible to be in a country through the use of documents is a human made concept not a divine principle.
Applied to DACA recipients, most came as small children and are linguistically and culturally as if they had been native born. To deport them is to place them in what is to them a foreign country. Some speak their native language but many do not. To deport them is to do them a great injustice.
Notice the passage is about how WE are to respond to them? God’s people were to have empathy for immigrants and foreigners because they were once immigrants and foreigners in Egypt.
Third Principle: Walls were built to keep out enemies not immigrants.
It was common in the OT for people to build walls around their cities. Walls were to keep the cities safe from enemies not refugees. It was a time when warring neighbors would dispatch ground troops with chariots and horses. The problem is that we have defined all immigrants and refugees as a threat to our country when they are people fleeing war or seeking a better life or trying to reunite with family. We have scapegoated them as enemies and criminals.
One article I was reading recently sought to tarnish all DACA recipients as thugs. During the election President Trump began his election bid with statements that tarnished all immigrants as rapists and murderers and drug dealers. Enemies are being created through our political dialogue as we are being manipulated by fearful narratives. These created enemies are being used to divide the country between “us”… the good people and “them” the bad people we want to keep out.
Scripture tells us this, “There are six things that the LORD strongly dislikes, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” ( Proverbs 6:16–19)
By creating “Us” and “Them” categories, politicos are sowing discord and bearing false witness against whole groups of people. Instead of each person being responsible for his or her own actions, politicos are tagging whole groups of immigrants as somehow more evil than the rest of us. This isn’t then about personal actions but about assuming certain groups of people are intrinsically more sinful than others.
Paul dispels that myth in Romans Chapter 2 when he says that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. One group of people, the Jews, at that time considered themselves to be more honorable and righteous than another group, the Gentiles. Paul clearly dispelled that myth. We cannot say that one ethnic group is more righteous than another therefore, we cannot tag immigrants and DACA recipients with greater lawbreaking capacity than we ourselves as a group.
They are not enemies… they are immigrants. Big distinction.
The Biblical building of walls was so that the city would be protected from attack from ground troops sent by nations. It was to be a defense of the city. It was not a wall to keep out immigrants or refugees or hungry people. In fact, it was common for various tribes and people groups to move around during famine so that their families might find food. No one checked papers at the gates of the city but the gates were closed during times of attack. We find many stories in the Bible when God’s people moved out of their own lands during famine—the story of Ruth, the story of Abraham and his family etc. Walls were not keeping out immigrants and refugees but enemies during times of war.
Ephesians 2:14: "For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us."
It is good for a nation to have an orderly immigration system. It is good for a nation to protect itself from real enemies. It is good to create pathways to gain the necessary authorization to be in this country. It is good to dialogue about how best to create that orderly system of immigration.
It is evil to tarnish people, and bear false witness against them. It is evil to assume one tribe or group is less sinful then others. It is evil to close our eyes and ears to the cries of refugees and immigrants. It is heartless to deport those who have come to this country as trusting children.
I think that as God’s people we could put our heads together and come up with an orderly system of immigration and authorization. As God's people we might create something more humane for immigrants and be able to protect our country from threats through rational legislation. But, politicos are so busy tarnishing others as bad and playing to our nations irrational fears, that we can’t get anything done. And we live with an outdated immigration system that does little to meet our current needs as a nation.
There is something even more insidious… I have read that by supporting DACA recipients and offering them a path to citizenship, they will sponsor their families and democrats will get more voters and the GOP will lose power. And I think that notion reveals that many politicians are more concerned about maintaining their base of power than doing what is just and right in the eyes of God toward immigrants.
2 Timothy 1:7 says this "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." May the wind of the Spirit give us insight in how to follow Jesus in the 21st century.