United Methodist supporters of immigration reform applauded President Obama's June 15 announcement that the United States would change its immigration policy, ending deportation for some young undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as children.
The action, brought about by executive order and not requiring legislation, is similar in some ways to the DREAM Act, a measure blocked by Congress in 2010. The DREAM Act's goal is to set a path toward citizenship for certain young undocumented immigrants. The administration's action could affect up to 800,000 people.
Under the new policy, immigrants younger than 30 who came to the United States before age 16, who pose no criminal or security threat and who were successful students or served in the military, can obtain a two-year deferral from deportation, according to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Those meeting the requirements could apply for work permits, provided they are now in the United States and have been continuously at least five years.
Phoenix Area Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño, a longtime proponent of the DREAM Act, responded with a statement.
"The Obama administration's announcement today that some undocumented youth living in the U.S. will receive temporary relief from deportation and will be able to receive work authorization is an extraordinary way forward for much-needed immigration reform," the bishop said.
"Among the young people who will be blessed by this action are United Methodists with whom we celebrate and give God thanks. This day comes as a result of the diligent efforts of many, including the hard work of immigration rapid response teams in our annual conferences, the work of several of our general agencies, United Methodist Women, and the clear and steady voice of our Council of Bishops."
'Overwhelming' but 'bittersweet'
"It's really overwhelming," said an 18-year-old woman, who was attending the Florida Annual (regional) Conference session when she heard the announcement. "I've been here since I was 2 years old and grew up American. And now, the fact that I can finally work and go to school here will make life so much easier." She is a new volunteer for the United Methodist Justice for Our Neighbors program to help immigrants, and she wants to attend law school.
"But at the same time, it's bittersweet for me," she continued. "It's great for everyone who qualifies, but I have mixed emotions because of my family. I think about my parents, my aunts and uncles - people who have never had a criminal record and have contributed to this society, they are really deserving of relief. So, the work isn't finished."
Calling it "a big day to celebrate," Hannah Hanson, education and advocacy coordinator for JFON in Florida, said, "I truly believe that The United Methodist Church had a lot to do with this decision. We've been advocating for this a long time, all across the country. Tomorrow there's a lot of work to do, but this is truly a day to celebrate."
The president made the announcement in a news conference called Friday morning. "Effective today, the Department of Homeland Security is taking steps to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people," Obama said.
"This is not amnesty, this is not immunity, this is not a pass to citizenship. It's not a permanent fix," he continued. Calling the decision "a temporary stopgap measure," he said, "There is still time for Congress to pass the DREAM Act this year. &ellipsis; We still need to pass comprehensive immigration reform."
'The right thing to do'
Sharing the story of a young immigrant serving in the U.S. military, Obama continued, "I've been with groups of young people who work so hard and speak with so much heart about what's best in America.
"It is the right thing to do because these young people are already making contributions to our society," the president said. Treating them as expendable, he said, "makes no sense."
"We have always drawn strength from being a nation of immigrants ... ," he said, "and my hope is that Congress recognizes that and gets behind this effort."
The American Civil Liberties Union said the announcement came on the 30th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, Plyer v. Doe, in which the high court made clear that all children, regardless of their immigration status, must be welcomed in the nation's public K-12 schools.
*Bachus is director of the office of Spanish resources and Dunlap-Berg is internal content editor for United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Barbara Dunlap-Berg, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].