President Trump’s decision to end a program that allowed undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, known as “dreamers,” to stay in the country, received fast condemnation from many corners of the faith world.
Religious leaders, including some of the evangelicals who have remained steadfast in their support for Trump, expressed their disappointment that Trump would reverse the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
In a strongly worded statement, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called the decision “reprehensible.”
“Now, after months of anxiety and fear about their futures, these brave young people face deportation,” they wrote. “This decision is unacceptable and does not reflect who we are as Americans.”
The Catholic Church’s ties to dreamers are direct. About 1 in 4 U.S. Catholics are foreign born, and 34 percent of all Catholics are Hispanic, according to Pew Research Center. Still, the overall Catholic vote in 2016 was split between Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, though Hispanic Catholics overwhelmingly supported Clinton.
The criticism was echoed by local Catholic leaders, including Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, who has a close relationship with Pope Francis. He called the decision “very regrettable and harmful.”
The United Methodist Church was even sharper in its rebuke, calling the efforts to “rescind these protections, not only unconscionable, but contrary to moral work and witness.” The Evangelical Lutheran Church, a major mainline Protestant denomination, wrote that its members would “pray today for those that will suffer undue repercussions due to the end of this program.”
Even some of the faith leaders closest to Trump urged him not to end the protection for young immigrants. Some prominent evangelicals signed joint letters compelling Trump to leave the program in place while Congress works on a more permanent legislative solution.
The Washington Post’s Frances Stead Sellers reported on a meeting between the president and his evangelical advisory board last week, which included this exchange between Trump and Jentezen Franklin, pastor of a multiethnic megachurch near Atlanta.
“I know these kids,” Franklin recalled telling Trump.
“They are good kids?” Trump asked, according to Franklin.
“Yes, sir,” Franklin said he replied. “They are.”
Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, who also sits on Trump’s evangelical council, led the effort to persuade Trump to keep the program in place, but after Trump’s announcement released a carefully worded statement that put the onus on Congress to come up with a fix.
“Thankfully, it is the job of Congress to make laws, and now the President has provided Congress a six month window to legislate a more permanent and legally defensible solution for DREAMEers,” Rodriguez said.
Other evangelicals on the council celebrated Trump’s decision, including Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, who said in a tweet that President Barack Obama’s executive order that created DACA “was illegal and unconstitutional.”
The shifting of responsibility to Congress wasn’t limited to just those evangelicals who support Trump. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, vocalized his disapproval of Trump throughout the campaign and last week signed a letter urging the president to leave DACA in place. But Tuesday, he did not tweet a strong rebuke of Trump, reflecting the cautious walk of religious conservative critics of the president.
That was a consistent message among leaders across religions. At a rally protesting the decision in front of the White House Tuesday morning, the Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington based at Washington National Cathedral, addressed dreamers with these affirming words:
“I want you to know that you belong here. We love you; we are so proud of you; and we need your gifts, talents and hard work to help make this country live up to its greatest ideals,” she said. “Your dream is the American Dream of opportunity and diversity, of safe haven and of building a better life for ourselves and our families. The future of this country is in your hands. The president’s decision is not the final answer on DACA. We commit ourselves to work with and alongside you for a better day.”