14 Nov 2017

What Churches Need to Know About DACA

Founder Raul Rivera

Those who are current on recent news may have heard of the recent political conversations regarding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA).  

The decision to rescind DACA will affect approximately 800,000 youth and young adults in America. Those affected by DACA are from varied walks of life. You may be surprised to learn that some of your congregation have been beneficiaries of this program. 

This decision may affect young adult immigrants in your ministry who may be volunteers, staff members, or a part of the community your church serves. Knowing what this decision means for our nation will better prepare you to help those who are affected in your own community.

An overview of the DACA program

DACA was established in 2012 to use deferred action to grant certain benefits to illegal immigrants who entered the U.S. before the age of 16. On a case-by-case basis, individuals would be given a period of deferred action and the ability to request employment authorization. 

Prior to DACA being enacted, legislation called the “Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act” was proposed to Congress in 2001. 

The purpose of the Dream Act was to provide a way for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children to be granted a way to become legalized immigrants. 

Though various versions of the act have been proposed several times before the House of Representatives and Congress, it has failed to pass.

While the Dream Act has not passed Congress, the need to have policy to manage the growing number of children brought to the United States as undocumented immigrants is still present. 

Therefore, the DACA program was created. 

DACA does not provide permanent legal status and must be renewed every two years. A special application must be used to travel abroad for educational, employment, or humanitarian purposes. Traveling abroad for leisure was not permitted. 

DACA essentially provided grace to certain immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and not on their own volition. Though the program does not provide a path to permanent residency, it does provide the ability to work and live in the United States without fear of immediate deportation. 

The Rescinding of the DACA Program

DACA was rescinded on September 5, 2017 by an official memorandum from the Department of Homeland Security.

It will be phased out by no longer accepting new applicants and only renewing applications for those who submitted renewal requests by October 5 and who are eligible for renewal between the dates September 5, 2017 and March 5, 2018, giving the department a 6 month grace period to phase out the program. 

The decision to rescind DACA was not an overnight process.

There were several steps that led to the ending of the DACA program as we know it. In an outcry against expanding the DACA program to include immigrant’s parents of U.S. residents, several states filed complaints in December 2014 with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

Over time, the constitutionality of DACA was questioned. Next, Executive Order 13768 was issued by President Trump on January 25, 2017.

The order, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States”, required federal agencies to take measures to ensure the faith execution of immigration laws, including the removal of aliens. 

Finally, the memorandum rescinding the DACA program was issued to the Department of Homeland Security when they received a letter from the Attorney General Jeffrey Session urging the Department to end the program, stating that “an open-ended circumvention of immigration laws was an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the Executive Branch.” 

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The Implications of the rescinding of the DACA program

Approximately 800,000 DACA recipients will be affected by this decision. Those who are currently DACA recipients will retain the benefits until they expire, unless terminated or revoked. However, no applications submitted after September 5, 2017 will be received. 

If a renewal request was not filed by September 4, 2017 and one’s DACA privileges have already expired, one cannot apply for renewal. Renewal requests for those who benefits expire between September 5, 2017 and March 5, 2018 will be accepted by October 5, 2017. 

As of now, there is no plan to proactively report DACA program participants to Immigrations and Custom Enforcement (ICE) for deportation, though this could change. 

Here is how the rescinding of DACA will play out over the next few years: 

  • From August through December 2017, a total of 201,678 individuals are set to have their DACA privileges expire.
  • In the calendar year 2018, 275,344 individuals are set to have their DACA/EADs expire.
  • From January through August 2019, another 321,920 individuals are set to have their DACA/EADs expire.

How does this relate to your church?

DACA will most impact churches with immigrant youth and young adults who were brought to the United States by parents or guardians before the age of 16. 

For some churches, this will not have a great impact. For others, several of your members and their families may be affected. You may even have staff members who were a part of this program. 

There are a few steps that your ministry may be able to take to assist those facing immigration challenges through the rescinding of DACA. It is advisable to contact an experienced immigration attorney prior to taking action: 

1. Consider applying for a religious worker visa. 

Visas for immigrants working for religious organizations can be applied for. This visa is called an R-1 Visa. The church would apply for the visa on behalf of the worker whom it would like to hire. There are certain conditions that must be met, such as: 

  • the immigrant must have been a member of the organization for at least 2 years, 
  • have proof of completing ministerial training, 
  • be ordained by the organization applying for the visa, and 
  • show proof of financial support from the organization sponsoring the visa. 

In addition, note that the R-1 Visa grants residency for 5 years and it only applies to religious work. 

2. Consider applying for a special immigrant status visa. 

This visa application is submitted by the immigrant his or herself. The requirements are similar to that of an R-1 Visa, however, the immigrant must show proof of having been compensated by a United States corporation for at least two years. This visa also grants residency for 5 years. 

**We recommend before filing or applying for any one of these two visas, you reach out and seek the advise of a qualified and knowledgable immigration attorney.**

Keep fighting the good fight

These historical, present, and future decisions regarding the DACA program will have great implications for our nation, our community and our churches. However, as the body of Christ we are also a part of a greater mission to love one another and to share God’s love and gospel with the world.

Through historical changes such as this one, as the body of Christ, we have the opportunity to be a beacon of hope and encouragement to those facing significant life changes. Let us continue to pray for wisdom for leaders and grace for our nation through this season of change.

Our goal here at StartCHURCH is to help guide pastors and ministry leaders in all things related to church and ministry compliance. What’s important to you is important to us. 

If you have any questions I want to encourage you to give us a call at 877-494-4655 or join us at one of our Ultimate Church Structure Conferences in a city near you.

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Raul Rivera

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