A US scheme to protect the children of illegal migrants will be scrapped, Donald Trump's team announced today.
Attorney general Jeff Sessions, who openly supports rescinding the scheme, was sent to announce the move on Tuesday after pressure from evangelicals on both sides.
While some evangelical leaders pleaded with Donald Trump not to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – or DACA – scheme launched by Barack Obama's administration, others said it was his duty to do so.
Earlier on Tuesday he tweeted, hinting he would delay scrapping the system to allow Congress to come up with a replacement plan.
DACA allows law-abiding young people who came to the US illegally as children to apply for temporary rights to live, work and study in America. During the past five years it has allowed 800,000 so-called 'Dreamers' to attend school without fear of deportation.
In a hardline attack on the idea, Sessions described the policy as an 'open-ended circumvention of immigration laws' and a 'unilateral executive amnesty'.
'The nation must set a limit on how many immigrants we admit each year,' he said.
'We cannot admit everyone who would like to come here, it's just that simple.'
The move will strain Trump's relationship with evangelicals, many of whom put intense pressure on Trump not to cancel the scheme. The Evangelical Immigration Table, a group including National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson and Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission president Russell Moore, wrote a letter to Trump saying: 'These young people have shown through their great determination and fortitude that our nation is better off because of their presence. They are leading in our churches and our communities.'
The letter urged the White House to 'find solutions that allow these young people to stay in our country long-term and continue to be a blessing to our communities'.
Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, also warned Trump about the consequences of ending DACA. 'As a pastor, I cannot sit idly by while the federal government threatens to forcibly separate families by deportation,' he said.
Rodriguez, who prayed at Trump's inauguration, added: 'In the Scriptures, we read the timeless words, 'Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate' (Mark 10:9). It is no individual's or government's place to rip families apart, let alone millions of them. The scope of this crisis is simply breathtaking. 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. 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.'
In addition to the fears for families being separated, some Christians are concerned their pastors and fellow churchgoers could be deported if DACA was abandoned.
Lynne Hybels, from the megachurch Willow Creek, said her church had 'witnessed firsthand the hope that the DACA program has brought to individuals who have wanted nothing more than the chance to pursue an education and lead a productive life, just as our own children have done. To end the program now, without action from Congress first, would be devastating – for them and for the communities that benefit from their work, ingenuity, and courage.'
But Trump also came under pressure from other evangelical leaders, who posed a series of challenges including 'who will speak of the real cost of illegal immigration'? and 'who will stand for justice for Americans victimized by people here 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.'