DACA's fragility undermines the future of immigrant children: we need permanent immigration reform

  • Kevin Sampson

    Kevin Sampson

Posted9/2/2021 1:00 AM

Since its founding, America has been a country of immigrants. Today, immigrants continue to bring their own talents, skills and cultures to America, and they contribute their hard work and dedication to the American way of life.

But immigrants need the right policy support to truly flourish. And for America's undocumented immigrants and their families, support is probably the last thing they're getting from our government.


For years, America has granted only the most tenuous and uncertain of protections to the children of undocumented immigrants. Though they have broken no immigration laws on their own, these children have only been given the temporary right to reside and work lawfully in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Their legal status has always been fragile; now, that fragility is hurting their ability to grow, give and thrive in the communities they belong to.

The biggest problems with DACA are that it isn't a permanent solution and it doesn't provide a permanent legal status to the children of undocumented immigrants. DACA was originally implemented as an executive action by President Obama, and to this day it remains challengeable in court and reversible by executive order.

That means that the protection afforded by DACA is always up in the air. Just recently, a Texas judge issued a ruling that could threaten the DACA program entirely, in addition to preventing new applicants from seeking protection under DACA. Because DACA isn't a permanent solution, it has always been and will always be subject to these kinds of legal attacks.

Many Americans can only imagine what it's like to live with that uncertainty. But I don't have to. There are 33,000 Dreamers currently living in Illinois under DACA. As the pastor of a church in a mostly Hispanic community in Illinois, I have worked with a lot of undocumented immigrants and their children. I have seen firsthand over and over again how DACA's fragility threatens the well-being of young children. When politics are in limbo, people are in limbo. And when people are in limbo, their talents and abilities are systematically undermined.

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I've seen kids have their lives derailed and thwarted by this political limbo. I think of one student I worked with who had incredible intellectual gifts. He was top of his class in high school while still learning English. He had big dreams for himself. But he couldn't go to college because of his tenuous legal status; he couldn't pursue his dreams. Our immigration system blockaded his progress, when it should have encouraged him to grow.

This student's case is just one among many. I've been a pastor to countless students who discovered late in high school they didn't have and may never have the same opportunities as their peers. This discovery affects how they think about themselves; it disheartens them and discourages them from cultivating their talents and their skills.

But if America would give them a clear pathway to permanent, legal citizenship, they would have something tangible to work for. Providing such a pathway would do two things at once. On the one hand, it would help encourage thousands of young people to develop their full potential. On the other hand, it would fulfill a moral responsibility we have as a nation to care for these immigrants.

Enabling and empowering people is something we should all want to do. In my work as a pastor, I often return to the book of Ruth in the Bible. There's a touching story where Boaz comes across a foreign refugee woman who is in a condition of vulnerability. But when he meets her, he immediately overlooks their ethnic differences, and he calls her "my daughter." He treats her like family.


I think that welcoming the stranger as a member of our family is part of what it means to treat the stranger with dignity. We all intuitively understand that our family members deserve to have their talents and their gifts supported and cultivated; we always want the best for our family. We should want the best for those who come to America as well.

Right now, there are promising bipartisan immigration reform bills on the table, like the DREAM Act put forward by Senators Durbin and Duckworth. But we need to do more than propose immigration reform; we have to enact it.

That's why I signed a letter along with 100 other Illinois pastors, evangelical leaders and laypeople urging Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth to take immediate action -- not just because it would be good for immigrants, but because it would be the right thing to do.

• Kevin Sampson is the lead pastor of Renewal Church in West Chicago.

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