Webinar: Pray for Dreamers, work for immigration reform

Gamaliel Martinez, a social worker with BCFS and member of Westover Hills Church in San Antonio, describes his experiences as a DACA recipient during a webinar, “DACA & Dreamers: What’s Next?” (Screen Capture)

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Although the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling on DACA—Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—provided temporary relief for young immigrants, their future remains uncertain, and the United States desperately needs immigration reform, participants in a bilingual webinar insisted.

Convención Bautista Hispana de Texas—the Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas—sponsored the two-part webinar, first in Spanish and then in English, “DACA & Dreamers: What’s Next?”

“Dreamers” refers to young immigrants who qualify for support from the Development, Relief and Education for Minors Act. Also known as “DACA recipients,” they are immigrants who were brought to the United States before their 16th birthday and before June 15, 2007, and who were in the country when DACA was implemented June 15, 2012.

About 700,000 young people have benefited from DACA, and most remain in the United States because of the policy, instituted by executive order from President Barack Obama.

Matthew Soerens, U.S. director of church mobilization and advocacy for World Relief and national coordinator of the Evangelical Immigration Table, participates in a webinar sponsored by the Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas. (Screen Capture)

The Trump Administration announced it would end DACA. On June 18, the Supreme Court ruled the administration could not do away with DACA—not because it does not have authority to do so, but because it did not follow proper procedure, reported Matthew Soerens, U.S. director of church mobilization and advocacy for World Relief and national coordinator of the Evangelical Immigration Table.

“This court decision is not a permanent solution,” Soerens said. “This or a future administration could end DACA again by following the appropriate rules.”

‘They wanted something better for me’

The webinar featured two Dreamers—Itzayana Aguirre, a fund-raising coordinator for the health foundation at Cook Children’s Hospital and member of Iglesia Bautista Victoria en Cristo in Fort Worth, and Gamaliel Martinez, a social worker with BCFS, formerly Baptist Child & Family Services, and member of Westover Hills Church in San Antonio.

Aguirre was born in Mexico but has lived in the United States 24 years. Under DACA, she earned a bachelor’s degree from Baptist University of the Americas in San Antonio and a master’s degree from Baylor University in Waco.

Itzayana Aguirre, a fund-raising coordinator for the health foundation at Cook Children’s Hospital and member of Iglesia Bautista Victoria en Cristo in Fort Worth, described her experiences as a Dreamer during a webinar, “DACA & Dreamers: What’s Next?” (Screen Capture)

Her parents came to the United States because they wanted a better life for her and for her two brothers, who later were born in the country, Aguirre said. Being a Dreamer means “honoring the sacrifices my parents have made,” she said.

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“They were 25 and had to start over in life. They wanted something better for me and my brothers,” she said. “They raised us to work hard and take advantage of opportunities that came by.”

When she was growing up, friends struggled to understand when they learned she was not a U.S. citizen.

“I remember telling my friends in school that I was undocumented, and they did not believe me, because I spoke English like them, and my experiences (in) this country (were) just like their own experiences,” Aguirre recalled.

“I love my Mexican culture and heritage, but I grew up here, and all I know is here,” she said of the United States. “It would be difficult to be placed in a country I don’t know. I have family there; they would take care of me (if deported). … But I’ve been blessed by a wonderful church, by incredible people who always have supported me. … I want to do that for others. I can do that best by staying here.”

‘Honoring the sacrifices my parents have made’

Martinez was born in Mexico but raised in Kemp, a small town in North Texas. As a child, he “always had this fear of not knowing what I was going to do when I grew up” because of the uncertainty of his immigrant status, he said.

But he also attended BUA, working overnight to put himself through school. He got a job with BCFS and now is a social worker, “helping people,” he said.

Like Aguirre, being a Dreamer means “honoring the sacrifices my parents have made,” Martinez said. “They came here about eight months after I was born. They were 19-20 years old, knowing no English. Seeing how far they have come, it motivates me. … If my parents didn’t know English and got this far, I can do more … and one day, be looked at not as an alien, but as a human being in the United States.”

Dreamers pull their weight in the United States, Martinez added.

“We pay taxes,” he said. “There’s a misconception; we pay our taxes. Every two years, we pay our (DACA) fee—$500. We pay for our education out of pocket—no financial aid. We contribute to society. We are doctors, lawyers, social workers, people in construction. … Some of us have wives, husbands, families. If we were deported, it wouldn’t just be us who are impacted. … Get to know somebody under DACA to know we are people who want to be just as American as you are.”

“These are persons made in the image of God,” Carlos Valencia said of Dreamers. Valencia, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Victoria en Cristo in Fort Worth and Convención vice president, moderated the discussion. “This is not about political parties; it is about glorifying God’s word. You cannot say you love God if you hate people,” he said.

‘Formed in the image of God’

The issue is vital, because Dreamers are valuable as human beings and because they contribute to the welfare and vitality of the United States, Convención Executive Director Jesse Rincones said.

“It is important to know the hearts and lives of those who are impacted by decisions made in Washington, D.C., by people you and I vote for,” Rincones said. “These are the lives that are being impacted. If the first thing that comes to mind is, ‘Go home,’ I want you to know they are home. …

“Removal (of Dreamers) would damage things evangelicals hold dear—the unity of the family. Imagine hundreds and thousands of fathers and mothers taken away from their children, young people caring for their grandparents.”

Dreamers contribute about $433 billion to the U.S. Gross Domestic Product, Rincones reported. “They pay $12.3 billion in taxes, Social Security and Medicare, and still many of them continue living in limbo.”

An estimated 29,000 DACA recipients are frontline medical workers serving patients affected by COVID-19, he added.

“Sometimes we look at numbers and we may think we are advocating for those numbers or legal changes or political positions,” Rincones said. “But we are actually talking about lives that were formed in the image of God, people whom Jesus Christ died for.”

“We want to encourage people to pray for this,” he added, calling for advocacy for “a reasonable, middle-of-the-way solution to this.”

“As long as we remain silent, we are accomplices to the hurt of hundreds of thousands of people.”

Marv Knox is coordinator of Fellowship Southwest, a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship network, and former editor of the Baptist Standard. Isa Torres is Hispanic beat reporter for the Standard.

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