President Trump wants to wall out the undocumented. Does he want the wall to keep in the dreamers?
Trump issued an executive order last week that authorized the building of a U.S.-Mexican border barrier that will run for 2,000 miles.
The wall was defined as a “contiguous, physical wall or other similarly secure, contiguous and impassable physical barrier.”
The order said, “The recent surge of illegal immigration at the southern border with Mexico has placed a significant strain on Federal resources and overwhelmed agencies charged with border security and immigration enforcement, as well as the local communities into which many of the aliens are placed.”
The wall would keep out terrorists and criminal organizations that “operate sophisticated drug- and human-trafficking networks and smuggling operations,” which contribute to “a significant increase in violent crime and United States deaths from dangerous drugs.”
The White House directive calls for the repatriation of “illegal aliens swiftly, consistently and humanely.” It would end “catch and release.”
An additional 5,000 Border Patrol officers would be hired. Detention centers for apprehended undocumented immigrants would be expanded.
These are the significant portions of the wall directive.
No dollar amount was referenced, although private estimates project the cost to be as high as $25 billion. Congressional Republicans pledged between $12 billion and $15 billion. The source of those funds is unclear.
Trump and President Obama were both right to want to protect the nation’s borders.
Anthony Taylor, bishop of the Diocese of Little Rock and an interviewee in “Gospel Without Borders,” wrote in a pastoral letter: “Borders are necessary creations.” He offered eight reasons why borders are necessary.
What Trump’s order left unstated was the status of some 750,000 “Dreamers” – children who arrived in the country without documentation. They have a path to citizenship if they go to college or serve in the military.
Obama had issued an order called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, allowing them to avoid deportation if certain conditions were met.
Nonetheless, pro-immigration leaders tagged Obama as “the king of deportation.”
Trump seemed to nod last week at flexibility for the dreamers.
His press secretary said, “First and foremost, the president’s been very, very clear that we need to direct agencies to focus on those who are in this country illegally and have a record, a criminal record or pose a threat to the American people. That’s where the priority is going to be.”
With the murky political landscape on immigration, church leaders have several options.
First, they can scream that the wall is wrong and demonize Trump.
Second, they can pretend the Bible is silent on how people of faith are to treat the stranger in the land, avoiding congregation conflict.
Third, they can continue to offer English classes and welcome immigrants into their congregations. They can support border ministries that meet the humanitarian needs of the surge of children from Central America across the border.
Fourth, they can sharpen their pro-family moral argument. Being pro-family means keeping the state from tearing apart families by deporting parents and leaving behind their children.
Fifth, they can do moral education, studying what the Bible says and how that applies today. The Bible doesn’t offer a blueprint to public policy – building a wall or deporting the undocumented or opening up the borders.
Sixth, they can watch and see if the BRIDGE Act is a civic hill upon which to stand.
The “Bar Removal of Individuals Who Dream and Grow Our Economy” or BRIDGE Act is a bipartisan bill, put forward by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), to protect the dreamers. It is a bill. It is not a law.
Churches do have constructive options to address the issue of the undocumented.
In these polarized and gloomy hours, we ought to recall the words from 2 Corinthians 4:8: “We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed. We are confused, but we aren’t depressed. We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out” (Common English Bible).
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook. Order his new book, “The Disturbances.” It is available as either a paperback or an e-book.
Editor’s note: “Gospel Without Borders,” EthicsDaily.com’s documentary on faith and immigration, offers more light and less heat by separating myth from fact and sharing what the Bible says about treatment of “the stranger.” A free PDF download with immigration resources is available here.
Robert M. Parham (1953 – 2017) was the founder and executive director of Baptist Center for Ethics from 1991 to 2017. He served as executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, BCE’s website, from its launch in 2002 until 2017.