SAN ANTONIO—Patty Villarreal could not ignore the concerns her students at Baptist University of the Américas expressed when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program would end in March.
Her Christian commitment and background in social work prompted compassion and spurred her to action.
She helped organize a Nov. 28 rally on the grounds of Baptist Temple in San Antonio to support the Dreamers—young people who entered the United States as children and lack permanent legal resident status.
She worked in cooperation with the Refugee Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders, National Immigration Forum, National Christian Community Development Association, Texas Christian Community Development Network, Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
The “Camino de Sueños” event was designed to direct people who attended to contact their representatives and advocate for the Dreamers, she explained.
Beyond that, Villarreal hoped the presence of concerned people at the rally would send an encouraging message to Dreamers—to let them know they are not alone.
Beneficiary of the dreams of others
Karina Alvarez, who has benefitted from DACA, told the rally crowd how she faced obstacles because of her immigration status. But she is the beneficiary of the dreams others had before her, she emphasized.
“My parents are the first dreamers,” Alvarez said. “They are the ones who did the hard work of leaving everything to come here.”
Alvarez grew up not knowing she lacked authorization to be in the United States until she started looking for a college to attend.
When universities informed her she did not have a Social Security number and probably was undocumented, she was shocked, as were her longtime American friends.
“My friends told me: ‘You don’t look undocumented. You don’t sound undocumented,’” Alvarez said.
When the DACA program came into being in 2012, Alvarez was able to finish college and find work as a speech therapist. Now, she provides for her family and works with many children who—like her—were born in another country, she said.
When Donald Trump, who promised to build a wall on the Texas/Mexico border and clamp down on illegal immigration, was elected president, Alvarez noted many of the children with whom she works were frightened.
“They were concerned for their families,” she said.
Although her life has its share of stress and worry, Alvarez said, she knew she needed to be present at Dreamers rally.
“I want my child to know that I fought” for the rights of the vulnerable, Alvarez said.
Luis Juarez, director of missions and ministries at BUA, told his story of coming to the United States from Nicaragua in 1995.
“God gave us the incredible blessing to become U.S. citizens in 2006,” he said.
He was able to pursue his dreams because he lived in this country, Juarez said. Even though a major car accident in 2005 left him with several spinal cord injuries, he has had the opportunity to pursue the career he wanted, he added.
“No matter what your situation is, you can still pursue your dreams here,” he said.
Advocate for the vulnerable
The same opportunities have to be available to Dreamers, because although they were born outside the United States, this is their home, Juarez remarked.
Often, “they are 4.0 (grade-point average) students. They are hardworking students,” he said.
Many people have the misconception that people with legal status have carried the Dreamers, said Mel Keyes, pastor of The Joshua House of Worship in San Antonio. But like the story in Mark 2, where friends carry a paralytic man so he can see Jesus, Dreamers often have done the carrying in this country, Keyes said.
Influencing public policy to protect Dreamers is a long, multi-step process, Villarreal noted. First, Congress has to pass a bill that protects DACA recipients by the end of the year, she said. Then, the Senate will look at the approved bill to see if they want to recommend any changes.
If and when lawmakers come to agreement on legislation, it still can take some time for the new law to affect DACA applicants, Villarreal added. After March 5, 1,000 people will lose their legal status in the United States every day Congress fails to act, she added.
Voters can make a difference by contacting lawmakers, said Rucker Preston, executive director of Texas Christian Community Development Network. Public officials want to stay in office, he stressed.
“Make your voices heard and ask them to stand up for justice,” he said.
Love for neighbor means all neighbors
Some rally speakers emphasized the biblical mandate to love everyone and protect the vulnerable.
“We are here out of our allegiance to Jesus Christ,” said John Feagins, pastor of La Trinidad Methodist Church in San Antonio.
God commands his people to love their neighbors and show mercy to “the least of these,” Feagins said. “That includes immigrants. And it does not specify legal or illegal.”
Feagins expressed shock that many Christians have supported politicians who portray immigrants unfavorably and policies that make it more difficult for the foreign-born.
“This makes it a Christian problem,” Feagins said.
“We need to learn what the Bible says about loving your neighbor and what is God’s plan for the nations, not just the United States,” he added.
Xenophobia and nativism are rooted in a wrong understanding of the Bible, he asserted.
“When people say ‘Make America Great Again,’ they are talking about European colonialism,” he asserted. People who confuse American imperialism and the kingdom of God are guilty of apostasy, he stressed.
God is serious about Christians caring for immigrants, said Jesse Rincones, executive director of the Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas.
“There is a command for God’s people to care for the foreigner,” he said.
In Deuteronomy 27, the Scriptures pronounce a curse on those who fail to show justice to the alien, he said. However, in Jeremiah 7, the Bible promises God’s blessing for those who do not oppress the alien.
“This sounds like God is speaking to Congress, or to the church, or to us,” Rincones said.
“We pray that this will not be determined by the hand of Congress, or the hand of a president, but by the hand of the Almighty God.”