The writer is the legal director of the Immigrant Legal Center in Omaha. He is also a law professor at Creighton University School of Law, where he directs the Immigrant and Refugee Clinic.
In 2015, a young woman named Luisa walked into my office and asked for help applying to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Also known as DACA, the program gives temporary status to undocumented immigrants brought here as children. Like the more than 500 DACA youth my nonprofit immigration law firm has represented, Luisa had overcome tremendous odds and reached impressive heights. She came here with her mother at age 4, escaping domestic violence in El Salvador, grew up as an active member of her church and graduated from high school with honors.
Now she’s working toward her bachelor’s degree at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and wants to join the military. She’s also on the front lines of COVID-19 as a nursing home aide — which is how she covers her college tuition.
She’s absolutely the kind of person America needs, but soon she may be at risk for deportation. President Trump has been trying to deport DACA recipients since he canceled the program in 2017, and now the Supreme Court is poised to rule on the issue — and likely side with him. But most Americans want to give Dreamers legal status, including overwhelming majorities of Republicans, who favor protections in exchange for heightened border security, according to a 2018 study by New American Economy and Target Point Consulting.
This red state certainly understands the appeal of retaining Nebraska’s youth, no matter where they were born. It’s why our Dreamers successfully rallied state leaders to grant them driver’s licenses and access to professional and commercial licenses. Our lawmakers understood the value of helping DACA youth contribute to their local economies. It is a win to have young Dreamers — most of whom are college educated — build their lives here and invest in Nebraska’s future.
As a committed Christian, my work representing Dreamers is more than just a job — it’s a calling. In the book “Generous Justice,” Pastor Tim Keller writes about the “quartet of the vulnerable” — immigrants, widows, orphans and the poor — who are of special concern to God. I’ve represented every category of this “quartet” here in Nebraska. My clients have shown me how love, community and optimism can carry us through any crisis, including the global pandemic. My immigrant clients have taught me that to survive a crisis, we must see the humanity in each other — after all, we are stronger together. I know my fellow Christians cherish the biblical values of hospitality and love, which is perhaps why their support for Dreamers is so high — 80%, according to the NAE/TPC poll.
If the Supreme Court rules in Trump’s favor, Congress must move swiftly to pass legislation that gives Dreamers permanent security. It’s what Americans want, it’s what Dreamers deserve and it’s in our country’s interest. In addition to their $19.4 billion in spending power, DACA-eligible people fill critical labor gaps in industries including health care, where 62,600 DACA-eligible individuals work as doctors, nurses and more. Already, COVID-19 has pushed our health care industry to the brink; Americans would suffer if we deported the very people helping keep us alive.
“Welcoming the stranger” is a cornerstone of the Christian faith. And yet for those of us who know young people like Luisa, we understand that they are not really strangers at all. They are American through and through, working hard, even putting their lives on the line for their fellow Americans. But at this moment, they are vulnerable and so they deserve our protection. As Jesus says in Matthew 25, “Whenever you failed to help the least of these, you failed to help me.”
If you are a person of faith or simply a concerned citizen who cares deeply about our state’s future, now is the time to live up to this calling. If the Supreme Court allows Dreamers to be cast out, please urge Congress to welcome them in.