Van Ens: Use compassion as your compass in the immigration debate (column) |

Van Ens: Use compassion as your compass in the immigration debate (column)

Jack Van Ens
My View
Jack Van Ens

Editor’s note: Find a cited version of this column at

Compassion appears differently to supporters and opponents of conferring legal status on young adult immigrants who entered the United States as children.

Supporters defend DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — as an act of legislative compassion. In 2012, President Barack Obama used an executive order to create this program that allows foreign-born women and men, age 15 to 36, who crossed U.S. borders illegally as children, to avoid deportation. To qualify, these Dreamers must work or study and qualify for a driver’s license; 87 percent of DACA beneficiaries are employed, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center reports. Many found work in disaster relief after hurricanes hit.

Compassionate supporters of approximately 800,000 DACA participants focus on their human plight. They didn’t choose to immigrate illegally; their parents did. Showing hospitality to these people is a Christian response, say DACA supporters. The Bible speaks of compassion, using imagery of Christians wearing baptismal gowns. “Put on compassion” (Colossians 3:12). Feel pity toward the helpless. Turn welcoming hearts toward vulnerable people.

In contrast to compassionately meeting people’s needs, DACA’s opponents place faith in the principle of law and order. They say Obama overreached with his executive order. President Donald Trump rescinded it, granting Congress six months to put into law a program that shelters Dreamers from deportation. On Thursday, Sept. 14, Trump posed a question on Twitter, “Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!”

Some conservatives justify removing protections for undocumented workers. They refer to DACA participants as illegal immigrants. DACA’s opponents direct their compassion to the principle of law and order; not to those trapped in dire circumstances. We are told if immigration laws are disobeyed, our nation’s future as a law-abiding society is undercut. A nation without respect for law slips into chaos.

On Tuesday, Sept. 5, after President Trump announced that in six months DACA would end, Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the official announcement. He said DACA “was implemented unilaterally to great controversy and legal concern after Congress rejected legislative proposals to extend similar benefits on numerous occasions to this same group of illegal aliens.”

Sessions expressed strong compassionate respect for laws that block criminals from crossing our borders. Such laws deter illegal immigrants from denying “jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans.”

The Wall Street Journal’s senior editorial writer Daniel Henninger denies this fictitious claim. “I’m open to proof that American workers are willing to pack fish in Massachusetts, clean bathrooms at Motel 6 in Georgia or tar roofs during the summer in Texas — at any wage,” an incredulous Henninger writes. “But I don’t believe it” (“The immigration morass,” Sept. 7, 2017 p. A15).

Trump speaks about how wrenching it was for him to rescind DACA because “he loves these young people.” After instructing Sessions to pull back on DACA, Trump issued a letter. “As I’ve said before, we will resolve the DACA issue with heart and compassion — but through the lawful Democratic process — while at the same time ensuring that any immigration reform we adopt provides enduring benefits for the American citizens we were elected to serve.”

Translated: Protect white privilege. Ditch humanitarian concern for DACA participants. Make stricter immigration laws. Where’s the heart of biblical compassion for the “stranger,” “the sojourner” and “the alien,” who are today’s DACA participants?

The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries (, which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.

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