President Trump’s decision to rescind DACA — the Obama-era program that gave legal status to nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children — came with a built-in six-month delay.
On Tuesday, members of the president’s Evangelical Advisory Board claimed credit for that delay.
“We are responsible for this extension is offering. That’s our work,” said Tony Suarez, executive vice president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
Suarez said he and NHCLC President Samuel Rodriguez have worked on behalf of the so-called “dreamers” since the advisory board was formed during the presidential campaign last summer and stepped up pressure on the White House last week, making calls and delivering letters signed by Hispanic pastors to the president. Then, on Friday, a handful of the evangelical pastors met with Trump. At that Oval Office meeting, which neither Rodriguez nor Suarez was able to attend, Jentezen Franklin, a white pastor from a multiethnic church near Atlanta, made a personal plea to the president on behalf of the dreamers.
“I shake their hands at the end of my sermons,” Franklin said he told the president. “I stand and shake hands for hours: I pastor the dreamer kids.”
Rodriguez has repeatedly asked the administration to deport only criminals and has said that breaking up families would come with political costs.
“If the president breaks his promise to us to protect these children, they should be prepared for a mass exodus of the administration’s Hispanic support,” he said in a statement. “Even the most conservative among us will not sacrifice our children on the altar of political expediency. Let me be clear, should they decide to do so, we will oppose them.”
On Tuesday morning, Rodriguez issued a further statement, saying he had conveyed to Trump his disappointment that the DACA protections were ending and announcing a 60-day campaign that will put “unrelenting pressure” on members of Congress.
“We will not distinguish between Republicans and Democrats but between those who stand for righteousness and justice and those who do not. . . . 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 DREAMers.”
Rodriguez also said he wanted Congress to act well before the six-month window is up: “We will demand action from Congress within 60 days. We do not intend on letting a single member of Congress have a good night’s rest until they guarantee our young people can rest easy.”
A White House official, asked Monday about the group’s impact on the president’s decision-making on DACA, said the president talked “to a lot of faith holders.”
A large number of people were “part of the process,” the official said.
The Evangelical Advisory Board members, known to be united in their opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, have also largely found common ground in their goal of finding a “compassionate” and “long-term” solution for dreamers, according to several board members. Many of the board members minister to diverse congregations in megachurches and multisite churches in the South and West.
While their views on DACA vary, a core group, including one person who helped form the advisory board — Florida pastor and TV personality Paula White — joined Rodriguez and Suarez in their advocacy, which was received positively by members of the board.
The board members “believe it is Congress’s job to make laws,” a third board member said.
Some other presidential advisory boards disbanded in recent weeks as a result of the president’s controversial comments after the white supremacist demonstrations in Charlottesville. The evangelical board was conspicuous for staying largely intact.
In an interview Tuesday, Suarez said he will continue to serve on the board, at least for now. “If the administration gives us a deaf ear, that is a different conversation,” he said. “In today’s decision, we see the result of having access to the president. We were able to be a voice for the voiceless.”