For the majority of my life, I held fairly traditional views on illegal immigration. It was based in my trust that America’s democratic political systems are rooted in liberty, justice, and fairness.
However, meeting Jose changed me.
Like me, Jose is a Baptist minister and fellow believer in Jesus Christ. We both were raised in America, graduated from an American education system, and have a family and community we love. Where we are different is that as a teenager, Jose became aware that he wasn’t an American citizen but instead an undocumented immigrant, limiting his opportunities and delivering uncertainty around his future in the only country he knew as home.
Jose exposed me to the fact that there are millions of people like him who are deemed illegal immigrants and did not choose this status when they first arrived in America at the age of 2 or even 11. In fact, many did not learn until later that they were not born in the U.S. Our society has labeled this population as “Dreamers,” and despite our American value of fairness, there is no path for them to make the right choice someone else made on their behalf.
Imagine celebrating your high school graduation only to be blindsided with new information that you don’t have legal government documents and there is no solution to fix it. You can’t pursue the careers you were taught to aspire to while in high school. You can’t leave the country for a mission trip overseas. You can’t get caught with a broken car light while driving to the grocery store.
In 2012, after years of Congress debating and failing to create an earned path to legal status for Dreamers, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was introduced as a presidential executive order.
This policy created a special opportunity for Jose and roughly 600,000 other individuals to work legally, pursue college, buy a house and not fear deportation.
But as we approach the 10-year anniversary of DACA, the limited administrative policy stopped receiving new applicants, leaving millions more in limbo, including the 100,000 Dreamers who graduated from high schools across America this past May.
DACA also continues to face legal challenges and could be struck down by the courts at any moment this year. Jose would be faced with renewed risks of deportation and removal from his church, his family, and his community.
Americans are faced with a moral gravity to make things right for our neighbors like Jose. But fairness and justice for this unique population can only be permanently secured by Congress.
Voters are calling out for it and don’t want to wait until after the midterm elections. The National Immigration Forum published a poll in February that shows 8 in 10 voters support a pathway for legal status for Dreamers coupled with border security policies and smart visa reform to deliver a reliable workforce for farmers and ranchers.
In my home state, I find hope in U.S. Senator Alex Padilla’s (D-CA) promotion of the “Citizenship for Essential Workers Act'' and in Congressman David Valadeo’s (R-CA-21) political courage to vote for the 2021 American Dream and Promise Act. Both sides can come together and show us how to live up to our own ideals as a nation. This is the year to get the right decisions across the finish line for Dreamers and for our country.
Alan Cross is the pastor of Petaluma Valley Baptist Church in Petaluma, California.