On August 1, as part of a political negotiation to garner enough votes to pass a supplemental funding bill to respond to unaccompanied children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, the House of Representatives passed a bill to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
That vote was an unintentional betrayal of the social conservative cause.
In order to win the GOP primary, a presidential candidate will likely be pushed to announce he or she would kill the program, effectively opening millions to the risk of deportation and forcing employers to fire their once-authorized employees.
– Rev. Samuel Rodriguez
While the bill to terminate DACA has almost no chance of ever becoming law, the Latino community will not soon forget it. For many Latino young people – including many Latino evangelicals – DACA has brought about hope, providing opportunities for individuals whose lack of legal status came about through no fault of their own to accept a job, develop their God-given potential, and contribute to our communities. Furthermore, Congress’ failure to work together to actually reach a consensus around immigration – both in terms of the immediate reality of unaccompanied minors and the larger challenge of our antiquated immigration system – has given the President the impetus to take executive action to resolve our immigration challenges, which he says he will do in the coming weeks.
It is because of my commitment to religious freedom and to defending unborn life that I feel a profound ambivalence about the President’s pending action on immigration. On the one hand, executive action on immigration could relieve the suffering within immigrant communities that I and other pastors witness firsthand. There is scarcely a Latino pastor who does not have stories of hard-working, otherwise-law-abiding members of their congregation who were picked up on a traffic violation or some other minor offense, then detained and ultimately deported, often separating them from their spouse and children. Marriages suffer. Children suffer. In 2013 alone, about 200 parents of U.S. citizen children were deported each day. So if the President announces bold executive action – such as a dramatic expansion of the Deferred Action program to parents of U.S. citizen children without criminal issues – I will applaud, even though it will at best be temporary relief, not the long-term legislative solution that the House of Representatives has failed to offer. But I also fear that such bold executive action could, in an indirect way, significantly set back other causes of critical concern to me and other conservative Christians. Here’s why: our nation’s policies on abortion and religious liberty have largely been determined by the courts, rather than by Congress. From the Hobby Lobby case in June to Roe v. Wade four decades ago, these questions are being decided by judges, appointed by the President. If the President expands the Deferred Action program, allowing a significant number of presently undocumented individuals to gain work authorization, a GOP presidential candidate will be boxed in. The pressure on Republican lawmakers to vote to end DACA a few weeks ago foretells that, in order to win the GOP primary, a presidential candidate will likely be pushed to announce he or she would kill the program, effectively opening millions to the risk of deportation and forcing employers to fire their once-authorized employees. Come November 2016, Latino voters, including Latino evangelicals whose conservative values generally resonate with the Republican Party, will likely vote overwhelmingly for the Democratic candidate. This will be history reliving itself: two years ago, when President Obama first enacted DACA, Governor Romney stated publicly that, if elected, he would end it—and millions of Latinos, including a majority of Latino evangelicals, stood in line to vote against him. Many had in mind the face of a friend, relative, or fellow church member whose livelihood was on the line with the decision either to continue or terminate the program. Governor Romney ended up with a paltry 27 percent of the Latino vote. How Hispanics vote in 2016 could decide the next President as well—and the appointments that he or she makes could determine for decades to come if our country will defend religious liberty and protect unborn life. The best chance the GOP has to put this issue behind them is for Speaker Boehner to move now on immigration reform, because it will only become much more difficult after the President acts unilaterally. If Republicans act, they’ll earn the gratitude of the Latino evangelical community, who already share their values on key social issues, but most of whom cannot stomach the idea of voting for a party that has blocked immigration reform. To be clear, there are a plethora of economic, national security, and moral reasons that the House should act on immigration reform. But if those reasons are not enough, passing reform is also politically vital for defenders of life and religious liberty. House Republicans who refuse to constructively take up the issue – and who participate in show votes that alienate Latino voters – are throwing social conservatives under the bus. Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.