President Donald Trump has recently revoked the protection that President Barack Obama provided to persons brought to the United States as children without proper documentation. These girls and boys, women and men are known as “Dreamers,” based on proposed legislation that would have provided them legal status if they attended college or joined the military.
The legislation did not survive, but the name remains popular. Under President Obama’s program, their deportation could be deferred if they paid $495 and passed criminal background checks. The program enabled many Dreamers to attend college and obtain jobs, but to be eligible, applicants had to have arrived in the U.S. before they turned 16 and had to have lived here since June 15, 2007.
Texas and California accounted for more than half of all the people eligible under the program, and most of the beneficiaries originated from Mexico and Central America. Dreamers come from all over the world, however, including countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Caribbean, not to mention Canada and Russia. Many of them cannot speak the languages of their countries of origin, nor can they understand their culture. Most have never even visited the country to which they would be deported. Under those circumstances, deportation is cruel, unfair and —let’s not forget — expensive.
Dreamers work and pay taxes. Deportation means swapping the income Dreamers provide for the expense of detention and deportation. It has been estimated that the country would lose $40 billion in gross domestic product each year from the loss of DACA workers, and that Indiana would lose $50 million annually.
Even though Indiana is a relatively small player in comparison with other states like Texas, California, Florida and Illinois, it is estimated to have some 15,000 people who were eligible under the program, including 10,000 who applied and were admitted. These workers and students are racially and ethnically diverse and are contributing members of our country and our state. Their loss would disrupt schools and classrooms as well as industries and businesses. As a matter of morality and public policy, deporting Dreamers is wrong and indefensible.
This goes beyond public morality and public policy, however. The treatment of strangers and foreigners has deep religious significance. All God-fearing Republicans, Democrats and independents should be beside themselves over this policy. Christianity, Judaism and Islam all dictate special attention to the treatment of persons who journey from other countries. In each tradition, the faithful are called to treat them justly with both care and compassion. The Old Testament, which has significance for all three traditions, gives very strong injunctions like the two quoted below:
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him (or her) wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him (and her) as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)
“You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him (or her), for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21)
These principles are echoed in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zachariah and Malachi, where God demands the fair treatment of sojourners and strangers who have come from other lands. In no uncertain terms, God calls for their special protection against injustice and mistreatment throughout the Old Testament. I know very little about Islam, but it clearly has a strong tradition of charity for the poor and care for travelers and wayfarers, along with similar directives in the Quran.
Christians have an even higher calling when it comes to immigrants. In Matthew 25, Jesus proclaims that he is present in the person of the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, those imprisoned and the stranger. Failure to invite the stranger in, Jesus says, is turning him away. In short, rejection of the stranger is the rejection of Jesus. With these strong directives, churches, synagogues and mosques should, together, lead the calls and efforts to protect Dreamers, along with everyone who believes in and is committed to justice.
So, as we pray and protest for prisoners, those formerly incarcerated and those suffering violence at the hands of police, racists, gangs, husbands and lovers, let us also protect and protest for our sisters and brothers facing detention and deportation. Just like our lives matter, their lives matter.
Carlton Waterhouse is a professor of law and Dean’s Fellow at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law.