Published February 20, 2018
WASHINGTON—Southern Baptist and other evangelical Christian leaders and pastors joined United States senators Wednesday (Feb. 7) in urging Congress and President Trump to enact swiftly a remedy for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.
The appeal in a Capitol Hill news conference came less than a month before the expiration of a program—known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)—that has given about 800,000 people relief from deportation. If no legislative resolution is achieved by March 5, an estimated 1,000 people a day will lose their protection from deportation.
President Obama established DACA by executive order in 2012 to protect undocumented immigrants who arrived in this country before their 16th birthday. The Trump administration announced Sept. 5 it would end DACA but also instituted a six-month delay for Congress to act.
The Southern Baptists and evangelicals who spoke to reporters Feb. 7 said they were not endorsing a specific bill but calling on and praying for Congress and the White House to act before the deadline on behalf of Dreamers, a label that stems from the name of a bill introduced to protect this category of immigrants.
"We're here today to speak to the consciences of our elected leaders to say, 'Do not make invisible our Dreamer neighbors and our refugee neighbors,'" said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).
The Christian leaders are saying to elected officials, Moore told reporters, "Do not simply kick this down the road. Do not ignore these people created in the image of God."
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., a Southern Baptist, said at the news conference, "This is a unique moment that I think we're standing in—that there's a deadline and a requirement to actually act on some issues related to" Dreamers.
He is encouraging fellow senators to "not stop the work," Lankford told reporters. "(F)or these families that are waiting for this moment, they need to know what is the decision, what direction are we actually going in the law."
Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated he would bring "a kind of bare-bones bill" to the floor that would initiate an amendment process that would hopefully result in passage and momentum going forward to the House of Representatives and president.
"We're not going to solve the whole (immigration) problem in the next week," King told reporters. "We're not going to solve all of the complicated—and believe me, they are complicated—issues involved in the immigration issue, but perhaps we can solve a piece of it, and we can do right by these young people who came here through no fault of their own...."
Moore and other Southern Baptists explained to reporters the significance of Dreamers and refugees in congregations.
"Dreamers are not some abstract category for us," Moore said. "Dreamers are teaching Sunday school. Dreamers are leading door-to-door evangelism efforts in our communities. Dreamers are the ones who are baptizing, the ones who are teaching people to read in our communities. Dreamers are leading churches in the United States of America. And when we see Dreamers in jeopardy, we see all of us in jeopardy. What hurts one part of the body of Christ hurts all of the body of Christ."
Jesse Rincones, executive director of the Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas, said, "For Hispanic Baptist churches, these issues are not theoretical or just statistics.
"These numbers represent people, who are integral parts of our congregations—church members, Sunday school teachers, students, employees, community leaders and even seminary-trained pastors, who are facing very real fears for the future if Congress doesn't act," he said.
Thabiti Anyabwile, pastor of Anacostia River Church in Washington, D.C., shared about immigrants and refugees in the church and told reporters, "These are the folks that make up our churches. They're not just families out there. They are indeed our family. And many are in great need."
Eric Costanzo, senior pastor of South Tulsa Baptist Church, said the church is located in the most affluent section of Tulsa, Okla., but now has people from 30 different countries in its building weekly. "We have been blessed to engage refugees and Dreamers and to call them part of our church family," he said.
World Relief, an evangelical humanitarian aid and refugee resettlement organization, convened the news conference and also sponsored a full-page letter to Congress and Trump that appeared in the Feb. 7 edition of The Washington Post. The letter—signed by Southern Baptist and other evangelical leaders and pastors—requested government officials remember Dreamers, refugees, persecuted Christians and families seeking reunification as they work on legislation. (BP)
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