DACA: Did evangelicals help or hinder 'Dreamers'?

Donald Trump's administration said the programme introduced under Barack Obama was unconstitutional.Reuters

Donald Trump's decision to cancel a program helping the children of illegal immigrants has bought widespread condemnation from faith groups.

The President's attorney general Jeff Sessions announced on Tuesday the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) scheme would be rescinded, affecting up to 800,000 beneficiaries.

In a tweet Trump put the pressure on Congress to come up with a solution for so-called 'Dreamers' who were allowed to attend school without fear of deportation thanks to the policy.

Religious leaders, including some of Trump's evangelical supporters, queued up to condemn the move calling it 'reprehensible' and 'unconscionable'.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops, who have frequently criticised the president, issued strongly worded statement saying the decision is 'unacceptable and does not reflect who we are as Americans'.

With one in four US Catholics foreign born and 34 per cent Hispanic, according to the Pew Research Center, the issue is particularly pertinent for the bishops.

'Today, our nation has done the opposite of how Scripture calls us to respond. It is a step back from the progress that we need to make as a country,' the statement read. 'Today's actions represent a heartbreaking moment in our history that shows the absence of mercy and good will, and a short-sighted vision for the future.'

The United Methodist Church also issued a fierce rebuke calling the move to 'rescind these protections, not only unconscionable, but contrary to moral work and witness'.

But some evangelicals who had previously spoken strongly in support of DACA were more cautious in their criticism of the president.

Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, who sits of Trump's evangelical advisory board and previous criticised (LINK) plans to cancel DACA issued a carefully worded statement.

'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,' he said.

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, was another who strongly condemned the plans previously only to offer a more cautious assessment after the official announcement, putting the onus on Congress to come up with a solution.

'Congress should do the right thing and provide a solution for those who were brought here by parents as children,' Moore wrote. 'And churches will be here to speak hope to children now thrown into fear and insecurity about their families and futures.'

The hesitation reflects evangelicals desire not to alienate the president and their close ties to him, believing by maintaining a close relationship they can have a positive impact in the long term.

Indeed a number of evangelicals who meet regularly with Trump claim it was their presence that bought the six month delay and gave Congress the chance to come up with an alternative.

The evangelical advisory council met with Trump on Friday and discussed DACA with board members urging the president the show kindness.

Rev. Tony Suarez, executive vice president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), told CBN: 'I feel like our work on the faith advisory council is vindicated today...this is precisely why we joined way back in the campaign last year because we felt if we had access to this office, if we had access to this man we needed to speak truth to power, believing that at some point God would touch, God would convict and there would be compassion for children.'

Another council member Bishop Harry Jackson agreed the board made a difference calling the six-month extension 'an extreme act of mercy'.

Johnnie Moore, another member of the faith advisory council praised Hispanic evangelicals 'for tireless work' securing the delay.

But not all evangelicals are happy with their work.

Renowned author Eric Metaxas, Wallbuilders founder David Barton, Lt. Gen. (Ret.) William Boykin of the Family Research Council and several others formed a 'Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration' forum and wrote to Congress urging them to prioritise Americans over those who came to the US illegally.

In a letter to Trump they said 'law and order sustain stability and peace' and added: 'While some faith groups use selective Bible words for open borders and amnesty, we consider the whole of Scripture. We find the Bible does not teach open borders, but wise welcome.'

They went on: 'We also find Nehemiah building walls to protect citizens from harm' adding: 'The Bible envisions a world of beautiful and unique nations, not a stateless "open society" run by global oligarchs.'