Several hundred Catholic demonstrators march on Capitol Hill on Feb. 27, 2018, to demand congressional action on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

Faith groups applaud Supreme Court DACA decision

WASHINGTON (RNS) — Faith groups are applauding the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision temporarily halting the Trump administration’s efforts to rescind an Obama-era program granting legal protection to hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children.

The 5-4 decision, written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and handed down on Thursday (June 18), blocked the Trump administration’s efforts to “wind down” the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was created by President Barack Obama in 2012 to shield qualified young immigrants from deportation.

The decision hinged on a technicality: It did not prohibit the federal government from rescinding the program, but ruled that it did so improperly.

“We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies,” Roberts wrote.

Even so, faith groups from across the religious spectrum hailed the ruling as a win for undocumented immigrants.

“This decision is an important victory in the fight for all immigrants and part of a larger movement that demands justice, equity, divestment from racist systems and institutions, and investments in Black communities and communities of color,” the Rev. John L. McCullough, president and CEO of Church World Service, said in a statement.

“Faith communities across the United States have made their voices heard in support of DACA recipients countless times. We are called to welcome our neighbor. We recognize the God-given dignity in all human beings regardless of their immigration status.”

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and a spiritual adviser to President Donald Trump, also praised the decision.

“Today’s Supreme Court decision gives a much-needed reprieve to the many DACA recipients in our churches and communities who have been stuck in legal limbo waiting for our nation to recognize that America is their rightful home,” he said in a statement. “I celebrate this victory with these young men and women and their families. They are a blessing, not a curse, to our nation.”

However, Rodriguez also criticized Congress for not taking action to write the program into law.

“Yet we cannot lose sight of what’s really not working here: this was the job of Congress, not the executive or judicial branch,” he said. “It’s time for Congress to do their job and to fix our broken immigration system.”

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient Roberto Martinez, left, celebrates with other DACA recipients in front of the Supreme Court on Thursday, June 18, 2020, in Washington. The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected President Donald Trump’s effort to end legal protections for 650,000 young immigrants, a surprising rebuke to the president in the midst of his reelection campaign. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Leaders within the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — which filed an amicus brief in the case in support of DACA — published a statement welcoming the decision and urging the president to abandon efforts to undo the program.

“We urge the President to strongly reconsider terminating DACA,” read the statement, which was attributed to Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, who also serves as USCCB president, and Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington and chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration.

“In times of uncertainty, let us remember the teachings of the Gospel which encourage us to be open and receptive to those in need: ‘If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him?’ (1 John 3:17). In this moment, we must show compassion and mercy for the vulnerable.”

The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, also lauded the decision, saying in a statement that “today’s important decision must be reinforced by legislation that ensures our immigrant neighbors can continue to pursue educations, develop careers, raise families and worship alongside us without constant threats of deportation.”

Eaton, the Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers) and Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, all shared Rodriguez’s desire for Congress to take action. They pointed to the American Dream and Promise Act, which passed the House of Representatives in June 2019 and would provide legal status and a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients.

“Each year on Passover, we read the story of how our ancestors defied the cruel demands of the capricious Pharaoh and pursued freedom for our people,” Pesner said in a statement. “We are commanded to read the Exodus story as if we ourselves come out of Egypt, and in doing so, we recognize the plight of others yearning to find shelter. Though we are pleased with today’s decision, we remain strongly committed to working in solidarity with DREAMers to ensure their ongoing safety and security in the United States.”

Nihad Awad, head of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the decision was “great news” and pushed for further action by lawmakers. 

“#America is the only home for the #DACA dreamers,” he tweeted. “They build America every day. It should stand by them by offering them not only the right to stay, but citizenship.”

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, also called for additional legislation.

"This Supreme Court decision might address an immediate question of administrative law, but it does not, ultimately, protect our vulnerable neighbors," Moore said in a statement. "There is no sending these people ‘back’ — in many cases they have no memory at all of the land of their parents’ origin. Those who have lived as good neighbors and contributed so greatly to our country should be protected from the constant threat of having their lives upended. That will take action by the United States Congress. Most Americans agree on this question, which is quite a feat in times as divided as these. Congress should move immediately to protect our Dreamer neighbors.”

The Trump administration’s efforts to rescind DACA were met with widespread opposition by faith groups. When the case was first argued before the Supreme Court last fall, 127 religious groups — led by the Muslim Bar Association of New York — signed on to an amicus brief voicing support for the program and criticizing the government’s attempts to undo it.

Authors of the brief argued that the “arbitrary rescission of DACA” would “indelibly harm the vitality of their spiritual communities, including by forcing committed members of their congregations and organizations to leave the country or return to the shadows.” Many also noted their affiliation with the New Sanctuary Movement, in which religious communities allow undocumented immigrants at risk of deportation to live in their worship spaces in hopes of dissuading federal officials from removing them from the country.

Other groups made their dissatisfaction known through protest. In February 2018, dozens of Catholic activists — including priests and nuns — were arrested on Capitol Hill in Washington while demonstrating against the administration’s efforts to wind down the program.

According to a 2019 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute, majorities of almost every major religious group support DACA. Religiously unaffiliated Americans were the most supportive (75%), followed by Hispanic Catholics (72%), white mainline Christians (63%), black Protestants (61%) and white Catholics (53%). Only white evangelical Protestants did not exhibit majority support for the program, with only 44% backing it in the survey.

According to the survey, 63% of Americans support the program overall.