United Methodists across the country are celebrating President Obama’s decision today to direct the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to stop deporting undocumented immigrant youth and allow them to obtain work permits if they arrived in the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have no criminal record, have been in the United States for at least five consecutive years, graduated from a U.S. high school or hold a GED, or served in the military.
The young people affected by this policy are known as “DREAMers” after the DREAM Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for DREAM Act-eligible students. The DREAM Act passed the Senate in 2010, but came up five votes shy of overcoming a procedural filibuster which prevented its passage. Although most Republicans voted against the DREAM Act in 2010, there has been recent openness by a few of the leaders in the party. The decision announced today by the President shows a bold step forward and many United Methodists across the country stand ready to support this important and long-awaited decision.
In the past three years, United Methodist congregations have, in many ways, led faith communities in advocating for just and humane immigration reform, including the DREAM Act. Just a few weeks ago, the United Methodist Immigration Reform Grassroots Journal was released, which illustrates United Methodists' grassroots work in support of just and humane reform.
United Methodists have engaged in over 570 events of public witness over the last three years, including public prayer vigils, meetings with members of Congress, and 250 DREAM Sabbath services in the fall of 2011 alone. This means an average of almost 200 public witness events each year, or one event every 42 hours.
In addition to the direct services that hundreds of United Methodist churches provide immigrant communities such as Justice for Our Neighbors, legal clinics for low-income immigrants, United Methodists are advocating for legislative reform that upholds the dignity and defends the basic civil and human rights of our immigrant brothers and sisters. United Methodist boards and agencies have come together to work in a unified effort to defend and support the rights of immigrants through the Interagency Task Force on Immigration, led by Bishop Minerva Carcaño of the Phoenix area and Bishop Julius Trimble of the Des Moines area.
In response to the decision made by President Obama today, Bishop Carcaño and Bishop Trimble both commented on the fact that in states like Ohio, Florida, Iowa, Arizona, Texas and many others across the nation, United Methodists have publicly testified to the need for reform because United Methodists witness the impact of a broken immigration system every day. Seeing families torn apart through raids and long waits due to family backlogs, and seeing how that impacts our congregations who readily serve immigrant communities, has compelled United Methodists to make their voices heard.
While today’s decision protects DREAM Act students from further deportations, this does not yet provide the long-term solution needed to guarantee DREAMers full citizenship in a timely manner. Bishop Carcaño stated, “Congress must step up, as President Obama has done, and provide the necessary leadership to pass the DREAM Act and ensure that justice is done for DREAM Act eligible students. These are students who serve in our communities and congregations. These are not just leaders for tomorrow, they are our leaders today and they deserve every right that every citizen of the United States enjoys. This is a much-needed first step and one that we will celebrate until we see the DREAM Act signed into law.”