[Episcopal News Service] Episcopal leaders on June 18 welcomed the U.S. Supreme Court’s surprise decision preserving protections for about 700,000 immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children. Even so, The Episcopal Church remains focused on advocating for legislation that will offer them permanent protection from deportation and, eventually, U.S. citizenship.
The court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that the Trump administration’s actions were “arbitrary and capricious” in attempting to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program known as DACA that was created in 2012 by the Obama administration. DACA, though not a path to citizenship, allowed recipients to work in the United States if they met certain criteria.
The Episcopal Church, acting on resolutions passed by its General Convention, has long advocated for protecting those immigrants. They often are referred to as DREAMers, based on the pending DREAM Act legislation, first introduced in Congress in 2001 but never passed.
“While today’s Supreme Court decision provides reprieve for DACA recipients, the DACA program remains in peril,” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said in a written statement to Episcopal News Service. “The Episcopal Church calls on Congress to pass the DREAM Act to provide permanent certainty for undocumented people brought to the United States as youth.”
Episcopal leaders and other supporters of DACA recipients note that they are contributing members of their communities in the United States and often have no memory of life in their native countries.
“DACA recipients are a vital part of our common life, both in the church and in society as a whole,” Curry said. “They are part of God’s family. We must give them the peace of mind to know they also belong to the American family.”
The Episcopal Church’s Washington-based Office of Government Relations, working with Episcopal Migration Ministries, has stepped up its advocacy on the issue this year, in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s ruling. The Office of Government Relations issued an action alert in April to its Episcopal Public Policy Network, and since January, it has met with staff members in the offices of more than a dozen U.S. senators, said Rushad Thomas, a policy adviser with the Episcopal agency.
The church has urged senators to support DREAM Act legislation already passed by the House of Representatives or to consider compromise measures that would preserve protections for DACA recipients. Such efforts will continue even after the Supreme Court’s ruling, Thomas told ENS.
“Our position is still and will continue to be that Congress needs to enact permanent protection for DACA recipients,” Thomas said. “This issue is a major focus for us, and we will continue to stand with DACA recipients and press for the DREAM Act that will give them permanent relief.”
Popular opinion has generally sided with such efforts, which occasionally have drawn bipartisan support in Congress and sometimes even from President Donald Trump. The president otherwise has sought to reduce both illegal and legal immigration to the United States, and in September 2017, his administration ordered an end to DACA, arguing that these immigrants’ legal residency status needs to be addressed by legislation, not executive action.
During oral arguments in November 2019, members of the Supreme Court’s conservative majority appeared willing to agree with the Trump administration that it was justified in ending the protections, but on June 18, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s liberal bloc in ruling the administration had not followed proper federal procedures for doing so. The court did not rule on the legality of the DACA program itself.
“While we celebrate the news that protections for DREAMers will remain in place, The Episcopal Church continues to stand with DACA recipients in calling on Congress to enact a legislative solution that provides permanent protections for undocumented youth,” the Rev. Charles Robertson, canon to the presiding bishop for ministry beyond The Episcopal Church, said in a written statement.
“The Office of Government Relations and the Episcopal Migration Ministries Engagement Unit have put this issue at the top of the agenda in recent months. We will continue to make the case to lawmakers that DACA recipients must be protected.”
The DACA ruling comes just three days after the Supreme Court ruled that employers could not discriminate against workers based on sexual orientation or gender identity, another decision that The Episcopal Church celebrated after years of engagement on the issue.
Washington Bishop Mariann Budde and Washington National Cathedral Dean Randy Hollerith issued a joint statement on June 18 acknowledging both decisions. “We give thanks to God for these rulings and for all those who have dedicated their lives to ensuring the legal rights and status of those previously marginalized in this country,” Budde and Hollerith said. “We are a better nation when we recognize the full humanity and the gifts of all our people.”
The church has been vocal in supporting humane immigration policies for decades. In 2018, the 79th General Convention, meeting in Austin, Texas, passed several immigration-related resolutions, including one that singled out the plight of DACA recipients.
This year, in addition to direct contacts with lawmakers’ offices, the Office of Government Relations and Episcopal Migration Ministries have issued calls to Episcopalians to engage in advocacy on the issue. The two church agencies partnered to held webinars, in April and this month, to provide information and personal perspectives, including from Episcopalians who are DACA recipients.
The Rev. Nancy Frausto, a DACA recipient who serves as associate rector at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Long Beach, California, participated in both webinars. When reached by phone after the Supreme Court’s ruling, her joy was clear.
“I think most of us were bracing ourselves to hear that DACA was going to be taken away, and this is very unexpected. It’s huge,” she told ENS. “And we also understand that it’s not the end of it.”
Frausto, 35, was just 7 years old when her parents took the family across the border into the United States from their native Mexico seeking greater opportunities. She said she didn’t realize she was an undocumented immigrant until she began applying for financial aid for college and realized she was missing a Social Security number.
At that time, her family was attending worship services at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. The congregation raised money to help Frausto and other undocumented immigrants attend college, she said.
“In the Episcopal Church, I found so much support,” Frausto said. “It was the church that got me through the darkest moments when I thought I had no future here.”
Now she is joining other Episcopalians in fighting for comprehensive immigration reform. “While today’s win with DACA is huge, we’re still not protected,” she said.
– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.