Show young immigrants America's promise is real

By Lynne Hybels
Guest columnist
Posted9/4/2017 1:00 AM
  • Lynne Hybels

    Lynne Hybels

Nearly a decade ago, the church my husband and I founded launched a Spanish-language service. As the demographics of our suburban community changed, we wanted to reach as many people as possible with the message that has always been at the heart of our ministry: that all people matter to God.

I would sometimes sit in the back of that service, listening to teaching translated via headset (since I regrettably do not speak Spanish), and celebrate the vibrancy that the Latino community has brought to our church and to our nation.

However, as I have gotten to know some of the many immigrants who worship with us, I've also been exposed to the deep pain caused by a dysfunctional immigration system: families separated by deportation; undocumented victims of crime afraid to contact authorities; individuals unable to return to their country of origin to say goodbye to a dying parent.

Perhaps no situation has troubled me more, though, than that faced by young people brought to the United States as children -- usually a journey which they did not personally choose. Their lack of legal status meant that at adolescence they hit a wall, when they realized they could not lawfully work, receive federal financial aid to enroll in college, or (until recently) obtain a driver's license. Bright, hardworking students would begin to lose hope when they realized that the promises they had heard throughout their lives growing up in our country -- that you could succeed if you worked hard enough -- were probably not true for them.

That is why the announcement of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012 gave me so much hope. While I would have preferred a change in law, such as the DREAM Act that Sen. Dick Durbin and various Republican colleagues have repeatedly introduced, the decision by the Department of Homeland Security to create the DACA program via executive action provided at least temporary hope.

Nearly 800,000 people nationally -- including more than 40,000 people here in Illinois -- came forward at the invitation of our federal government, paying significant fees to the government and volunteering their personal information. Our church joined with World Relief to host workshops where authorized legal professionals could help guide people through the complex application. Most ultimately obtained employment authorization, which allowed them to work, to pursue higher education, to benefit our local economy by buying cars and even homes and to contribute in various ways to their communities. As these young people's potential was unleashed, it gave me new hope.

However, as the Bible says, "hope deferred makes the heart sick." I am among many who are heartsick at reports that President Trump may terminate the DACA program in the coming days, potentially forcing thousands of employers to lay off these young people. Deprived of the opportunity to earn income, many would have to drop out of college or graduate school. Some would face difficulties paying rent or making a mortgage payment. Many fear, based on the new administration's immigration broadened enforcement priorities, that they and their undocumented family members could face deportation -- often to a country of birth they cannot even remember.

It's not too late, though. The president can simply keep the existing DACA in place, as he has indicated in recent months he would do. It's also not too late for Congress to come together on a bipartisan basis and pass the DREAM Act or other legislation that would allow these young people to earn permanent legal status and eventually citizenship.

At a time when our country is so bitterly divided over politics, our elected officials have the opportunity to act in a way that is broadly popular with Americans across the political spectrum, in the interest of our economy and, most importantly, is right, just, and moral. It is the opportunity to convey to these young people: not only do you matter to God -- a reality no political action or inaction can change -- but you matter to our society, too.

Lynne Hybels is the co-founder of Willow Creek Community Church, which has campuses in South Barrington, Chicago, and several other locations around Chicago.

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