A federal court ruling last week created more uncertainty for younger migrants protected from deportation by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). It also added urgency to the efforts of immigration relief advocates inside and outside the church.
Amanda Craft, manager for advocacy in the PC(USA) Office of Immigration Issues, said there is a long history connecting DACA with the General Assembly’s actions in support of migrants. She was joined by the Acting Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Rev. Bronwen Boswell, who urged Presbyterians to “pray for DACA recipients and the many more who haven’t been able to access the status. May we be moved to action to bring about the real promise of DACA — immigration relief for those who have invested so much to create and nourish community in the United States.”
[Read the Acting Stated Clerk’s full statement at the end of this article.]
“DACA was an executive order during the Obama administration meant as a stop-gap measure to protect migrants who came into the country as young people,” Craft said. “The program goal was to allow young people to continue their education, be protected from deportation, and have access to work authorization.
“The Trump administration said DACA was an overstep of presidential power and sought to have it terminated. After a number of court hearings, including appeals, it was ruled that no new applicants could apply to DACA even as the program continued to exist.”
Although the Biden administration opened a revised version of DACA, a federal court in south Texas has now ruled it illegal. And yet the presiding judge “declined to order an immediate end to the program and the protections it offers to recipients,” according to NPR.
“For about 600,000 participants covered by DACA, we don’t know what will happen next,” Craft said. “There have been no new protections put in place for people who have aged into the program after turning 16. The cost of DACA renewal in 2023 is $495 and must be renewed every 24 months.”
The long-term fate of DACA participants lies with elected officials in Washington, D.C., Craft said. Urging Congress to support legislation establishing a pathway to citizenship for DACA participants and other migrants is one way Presbyterians can live out the most recent General Assembly’s call to be a shelter and accompaniment church.
“The General Assembly has supported protections for migrant youth such as DACA and the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act for more than a decade,” Craft added, citing the 220th General Assembly (2012) policy paper, “On Taking Action Concerning the Place, Plight, and Contributions of Immigrant People [Both Documented and Undocumented] in Our Country, Neighborhoods, and Communities of Faith.”
“That paper encouraged presbyteries, congregations and individual Presbyterians and their families to urge legislative reform at the federal level ‘that offers hope for young migrants by providing a pathway to citizenship’ (GA Minutes, 2012, Part I, p. 1140),” Craft said.
“The PC(USA) has for decades been supportive and encouraging of access to status for populations who have struggled with pathways to citizenship, in particular children and youth,” she added. “We know these folks are members of our churches, loved ones, colleagues. In every way we live with, depend on, and respect them in our communities.”
Craft lifted up the story of Yesica Rosales Miranda, a DACA participant she met through a Presbyterian church in Brevard, North Carolina.
“Yesica is a staff member of El Centro, a group providing language learning and other services to the Spanish-speaking community. Yesica applied for DACA as soon as she could during the Obama administration, over a decade ago. She saw the opportunity to live more fully into herself with DACA’s protections, but also to be more engaged with her community.
“El Centro is dedicated to providing services to the Spanish-speaking community. Yesica would not have been able to work there without DACA.”
Like many DACA participants, Rosales Miranda is part of what Craft called “a mixed-status family,” with children who were born in the U.S.A. and therefore U.S. citizens.
The legal limbo takes a major toll on all DACA families.
“Yesica mentioned that because she’s being vetted every 24 months, she has to take constant care not to do anything that could jeopardize her status. She’s often not sure if the status will continue,” Craft said. “The mental health burden of this push-and-pull is massive.”
Rosales Miranda’s professional profile is similar to many DACA participants.
“We’re talking about tens of thousands of health professionals, teachers,” Craft said. “And they’re constantly being burdened by the uncertainty of their situation.”
The Office of Immigration has information on ways Presbyterians can support DACA participants and other migrants, including resources for worship and reflection. For information from other groups advocating for immigration relief, see the links below the Stated Clerk’s full statement:
We celebrated when the DACA program was introduced and implemented. It was a program born out of the diligent and persistent work of immigrant youth and those who loved them. The status provided protection from deportation, access to work authorization, and an option to continue higher education studies. It offered stability and possibility to a population that was faced with uncertainty and left without opportunity for growth. Supporting legislation like DACA responded to General Assembly statements that “call[ed] upon churches, presbyteries, and synods to closely work with youth who are living with a sense of hopelessness due to lack of legal status” (218th General Assembly  in “On Local Enforcement of National Immigration Laws That Adversely Affect Local Congregations”).
We celebrate the blessings that have come because of DACA. We celebrate DACA recipients’ ability to grow into the persons they are called to be. We celebrate their commitment to community, family, and faith. We celebrate loved ones who are safe. We celebrate PC(USA) members who can serve freely and fully.
However, we fully understand that DACA was never meant to be a long-term solution. We fully recognize that even though they provide hope, temporary immigration statuses like DACA cause harm, uncertainty, and emotional turmoil because they do not lead to permanent relief. We acknowledge that the financial, legal, and emotional burdens on DACA recipients to maintain and fight for their status are enormous. So today, I ask that we pray for DACA recipients and the many more who haven’t been able to access the status. May we be moved to action to bring about the real promise of DACA – immigration relief for those who have invested so much to create and nourish community in the United States.
Rev. Bronwen Boswell
Acting Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
- Office of Immigration Issues DACA page
- Interfaith Immigration Coalition (IIC) DACA resources
- DACA renewal fund – donations given to help DACA recipients cover the cost of renewal
- United We Dream response to court ruling
- United We Dream 5 things to know about the DACA decision (English | Spanish)
- National Korean American Service and Education Consortium DACA decision press release (in English and Korean)