The child was taken by his parents in the middle of the night, fleeing the country and a dangerous political leader. Even before he was born, the family was on the move, denied room at the inn, forced to give birth in a manger.
The story of Jesus echoes in the experiences of young undocumented immigrants, said Pastor Darla DeFrance of the Columbia City Church of Hope, which hosted “No Human Being is Illegal: An Interfaith Response Supporting DACA” on September 24.
“Jesus and his family were on the run for their lives, and they were refugees in Egypt,” she told the group of about 50 attendees from different faiths, gathered in the sanctuary. The church hosted the event with The Church Council of Greater Seattle and Faith Action Network, and featured an imam, a leader of the Sikh community, three pastors, and a former state representative.
DeFrance said that while Jesus’ family was eventually able to return home after the death of King Herod, many immigrants in the United States don’t have a safe place to return to.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program gives two-year, renewable protection against deportation and work permits to undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as minors. President Barack Obama created the program in 2012, but President Trump announced an end to it last month. Without DACA, about 800,000 U.S. residents brought to the country as minors could face deportation and a lack of legal employment prospects.
Reverend Shalom Agtarap of the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Methodist Church shared the stories of two local DACA recipients, reading statements they provided.
Sam came to the United States at age 9 and is now studying to become an optometrist.
“I’ve been chasing the same dream my 6th grade self dreamt of when I got my first pair of glasses. … With the rescinding of DACA, that goal I’ve chased relentlessly feels further away. How am I supposed to get loans for optometry school if I lose my social security number? How am I supposed to work and earn money to help my family pay for that goal in which they worked so hard to put me where I am?” Sam wrote. “[DACA recipients] have been trying for years to live with the situations we were placed in as children without any knowledge of what a visa is, much less the control of moving to a new country.”
Responding to those who liken rescinding DACA to punishing children for the sins of their parents, Agtarap said the United States has helped to create the situations people are fleeing: “Perhaps we were the ones who have sinned.”
“We have lived outside of our means, we have taken what is not ours, we have let companies in our name give us cheap products and gone into other countries and taken their land,” Agtarap said.
Cautioning against the arguments of “political pundits,” she said there shouldn’t be a debate focused on how deserving DACA recipients were or contrasting them against other types of undocumented immigrants: “We believe in an all-loving … God who doesn’t need that distinction.”
Imam Benjamin Shabazz of Al-Islam Center of Seattle is a U.S. Army veteran who served in Vietnam, receiving a Purple Heart. He spoke of his patriotic and religious duty to stand up for justice, and to protect immigrant families from separation and deportation.
Shabazz referenced the Bible’s story of the Good Samaritan, and quoted the Quran’s command to “do good to kinfolk, orphans, the poor, the neighbor who is near of kin, the neighbor who is a stranger.”
Protecting DACA is in line with America’s “beautiful bipartisan tradition,” he said, and asked event attendees to call their representatives and voice support for the program.
“The time for silence and ambiguity is over,” Shabazz said.
Reverend John Stean of Ebenezer AME Zion Church in the Central District spoke of his church’s history of civil rights action.
“We refuse to stand by silently as God’s children have their lives torn apart,” he said.
Stean emphasized the need to take real action. “We intend to do justice, not just to tweet it, post it, or put it on a sign in our yard but to live it with our expenditures of time and energy, resources and risk,” he said.
Dr. Jasmit Singh of The Sikh Coalition also urged against inaction and silence.
“We will have to answer to our kids, our grandkids, on how we refused to take action,” Singh said.
From the Bellingham Sikh riots of 1907 to Japanese incarceration, the tendency to “otherize people is nothing new,” Singh said. But Sikh teachings say “we’re all children of the same light,” he said.
Former state representative Velma Veloria offered suggestions for taking action, such as writing letters to businesses employing immigrants or joining the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network.
Veloria represented South Seattle’s 11th District for 12 years. She noted that one in five King County residents are foreign-born, according to the 2014 census—but few vote.
“We can make or break an election with our vote,” Veloria said.
The sanctuary church movement began in the 1980s when churches volunteered as places of refuge for Central American migrants fleeing civil war. Immigration officials have generally avoided making arrests or taking other enforcement actions at “sensitive locations” like places of worship or schools.
Faith communities around the country have stepped in to offer a safe place to stay, accompaniment to hearings and other assistance for immigrants.
For information on becoming a sanctuary space, faith communities can contact Michael Ramos and The Church Council of Greater Seattle at [email protected].
Ways to take action:
- Write letters or start petitions for institutions. For example: restaurants, hotels, construction companies, tech companies, colleges, nursing homes, etc. who have employees with DACA or undocumented work-ers. Ask businesses to commit to not reporting their employees and not cooperating with ICE agents.
- Join The Church Council’s network of sanctuary congregations. These communities commit to shelter-ing people who are undocumented from ICE agents.
- Join the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network.
- Call your friends and relatives who live in districts with conservative members of Congress. Remember that you love them and that we all want our country to thrive. Explain the situation that Dreamers are facing, and ask them to call on their lawmakers to pass the DREAM Act, which would protect DACA recipients and provide them with a path to citizenship.
- Register to vote. Get out to vote. Support lawmakers who will work with us to build a more just society.