Felipe Sousa Matos, of Brazil, holds his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) papers during a news conference in Miami on Aug. 15, 2012.
Last Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security finally offered more than 1 million young, aspiring citizens the chance to contribute to the country they love and call home.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which Homeland Security announced earlier this summer, is an initiative to provide relief for young immigrants who were brought here as children, often referred to as dreamers. As CEO of the Christian Community Development Association, I have had the opportunity to work with many of these bright young people.
One of them is Eduardo. When he was 10 years old, Eduardo realized there was something different about him and his family. His sister came home in tears after learning she couldn’t get a driver’s license. This wasn’t because of a failed exam. The 16-year-old had no legal immigration status.
Eduardo didn’t feel the reality of his own immigration status until much later. An active church congregant, Eduardo wasn’t able to join the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program because he didn’t have a Social Security number. “I was trying to positively contribute to my community,” he explains, “but I wasn’t able to because of my legal status.”
Eduardo, whose parents came to the United States when he was 1, lied to friends for years about why he couldn’t drive and didn’t have a job. “I was ashamed to tell my friends the truth, and I was also afraid of what they would think of me if they knew the truth,” he says. Doors to jobs and educational funding were closed to Eduardo, leaving him frustrated and struggling to stay hopeful.
Eduardo’s life is about to change. He may now begin the process of applying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Since his earliest memories, America has been Eduardo’s home. He has worked hard, has played by the rules and hasn’t gotten in trouble with the law. Now, he will be able to apply for a two-year work permit that will allow him to fulfill his dream of giving back to the community he loves as a full-time job.
Immigration is an issue that matters to Christians of all stripes and colors. Faith has motivated many to fight for changes in the system, and faith has inspired Eduardo. In his own words:
Eduardo’s hope is to make his parents proud by finding a job doing community development to make sure other youths have the opportunities his parents provided for him. Our country needs more people like this young man.
Let’s hope, pray, and fight for a system where all young people like Eduardo can pursue their dream of making their communities, and this country, a better place. They know that being an American is about more than where you were born. It’s about contributing and improving this place we all love.
This initiative will open previously closed doors for over a million young people, but this will not create an immigration process that works. I’ve taken a stand, along with over 150 prominent evangelical leaders, to put forth common-sense moral principles for a new immigration process.
The signers include the heads of evangelical universities and colleges, nonprofits and denominations, and white and Hispanic mega-church pastors. They span the ideological spectrum, from Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention to Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis.
Unfortunately, within a week, Ariz. Gov. Jan Brewer, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman have all made moves to stop these opportunities for young people. This is why Christians are mobilizing again. In just a few days a petition targeted at Brewer, who was the first to take steps to limit the effectiveness of deferred action, has gained over 5,000 signatures from concerned Christians.
Together, we hope to open doors for more aspiring citizens looking to contribute to this country they call home.
Noel Castellanos is chief executive officer of the Christian Community Development Association.