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Christians And DACA


The fate of the immigrants known as dreamers is now up to Congress. These are the young people whose parents brought them to the U.S. illegally as children. President Trump moved this week to phase out the program that had protected them, but he gave Congress six months to come up with a replacement. NPR's Tom Gjelten says the dreamers' cause on Capitol Hill is likely to get strong support from Christian leaders, including some from President Trump's own conservative base.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Evangelical Pastor Tony Suarez has supported President Trump on many issues. As a member of Trump's evangelical advisory board, he's even been willing to go along with him on a border wall. But Suarez and his organization, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, disagree with Trump on the DACA program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. That program has given dreamer immigrants work permits and protected them from deportation.

TONY SUAREZ: Since we first joined the advisory board, we told the president that if you're going to build a wall then you must also build bridges - bridges of compassion, bridges of mercy to understand the plight of these undocumented children.

GJELTEN: Support for the DACA program extends across the religious spectrum. A poll released this week shows a clear majority of white evangelicals in favor of allowing DACA recipients to gain legal status. Mainline Protestants support DACA. Also Catholics. Ashley Feasley works on immigration issues at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

ASHLEY FEASLEY: If you look at the requests from individual bishops and archbishops asking the president to keep the DACA program, I think you can see that this is a hugely personal, pastoral issue for them.

GJELTEN: The young immigrants who have benefited from the DACA program are called dreamers because so many have bought into the American dream. They're integrated in their communities. They join the military. Many are active in their churches. When President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced they were ending the program, church leaders reacted with outrage. The leadership of the Catholic Bishops Conference said it was a reprehensible decision, and individual bishops across the country echoed that sentiment.

DYLAN CORBETT: I have never seen the bishops so united on an issue, so vocal and outspoken in a long time on an issue.

GJELTEN: Dylan Corbett, a former staff member at the Conference of Catholic Bishops, is now directing a church-affiliated immigrant assistance group. He remembers the last time the Catholic Church lobbied collectively for immigration reform, and he predicts an even more energetic effort now on behalf of the DACA recipients.

CORBETT: The bishops did a really tremendous job of trying to get people out to talk to their congressmen, and it's going to be whenever - if Congress takes up this issue to try and effect some work-around for these dreamers, that type of work is going to be really important.

GJELTEN: The Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, meanwhile, will be just as active. The conference president, in a statement, says, we do not intend on letting a single member of Congress have a good night's rest until they guarantee our young people can rest easy.

Pastor Suarez is the executive vice president.

SUAREZ: We will put relentless pressure on our members of Congress and the Senate to draft legislation and to pass this legislation, and then to ask our president to sign it into law so that we can solve this problem once and for all.

GJELTEN: And that request, coming from President Trump's own religious advisers, would be hard to resist. Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Gjelten reports on religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.
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