This is the second of a two-part story on how Georgia Baptists are legally working to prevent children from being deported under the DACA program, which expires at midnight Thursday. Click here to read the first story.
MOULTRIE — Perception is not always reality, though it is frequently treated as such. With that in mind, the law is clear what DACA is and what it is not.
As Literacy Missions director for Memorial Baptist Church, Brenda Arnold and husband, Mike, work to separate fact from fiction in their ministry with Georgia Baptists.
For the past five years and three months, or 272 Thursday nights which ended on Sept. 28, they have processed a total of 1,675 DACA applications. Almost exactly half that number, or 848, were first-time applications; the remainder were renewals that were required every two years.
Memorial Baptist Church began its DACA outreach the day the program was announced in Washington, DC in June 2012. The couple knew untold numbers of undocumented children who needed the protection to prevent them from being deported, as the law stood at the time.
DACA gave a temporary stay of deportation to children who were brought into the country by their parents … and who could prove residency as of June 2012. While some today are in their 20s, many are children. Of the nation’s estimated 800,000 individuals, 24,000 reside in Georgia.
Immigration law is complicated and frequently breaks down along partisan lines. Unintentional consequences can have devastating effects if not addressed. And that is why DACA was created.
For example, last year one case in the Georgia legal system focused on an honor student at Kennesaw State University who was facing deportation because of her illegal status, even though she arrived as an infant.
Memorial Baptist Church is the only known Baptist entity in the state which provides the DACA service, with the assistance of fellow believer and Atlanta immigration lawyer Kembra Smith. A voluntary social worker also provides assistance as well as other Lions Club members who volunteer.
Undocumented individuals travel to the church from across the state. Some drive nearly five hours from as far away as Atlanta, while others come from Vidalia, Cordele and Macon. But the church’s ministry extends beyond the state’s border. Last week the Arnolds were working online with an individual from Chicago who learned about the church through word of mouth.
“When our church announced our DACA ministry in 2012, we expected to have about 25 individuals to attend the first night. But more than 200 showed up and we had to quickly move the group from the fellowship hall to the sanctuary.
“That attendance showed that we were meeting a need in the immigrant community,” Brenda Arnold explains.
“Many are afraid that such meetings are a trap but we have been able to build a bridge into that community through our ESL classes. They were not sure they could trust the government but they knew they could trust us, they could trust the church.”
The ministry is not just about helping them find acceptance in the United States but finding acceptance with God.
“We use the government paperwork to teach them English, and how to fill out documents. We cannot fill out the paperwork but can guide them in their own handwriting. That is one small step, we pray, to citizenship.
“While we minister we are praying that the Holy Spirit will help them accept the Good News of Jesus Christ, which is the ultimate Good News. We ask the Holy Spirit to intercede on their behalf for each government representative who looks over their application,” she adds.
Brenda Arnold says that, ultimately, this is about much more than filling out paperwork and the legalities of eventually attaining U.S. citizenship, which is totally separate from DACA. It is about attaining the quality of life that other American Christians enjoy, such as freely going to church, getting married, having children, and enjoying a safe, protective environment in which to raise those children,” she explains.
That is why she and other members of the church’s Literacy Missions classes work to separate the truth from the myths of DACA.
Arnold stresses the following facts about the program:
DACA is designed to prevent the deportation of individuals who were brought into the United States as children. It is based on the logic that they could not be accused of breaking the law because they were not old enough to understand the consequences of the actions which their parents took.
- DACA does not provide citizenship or permanent residence status. It temporarily halts the deportation process until Congress decides on a plan of action.
- DACA does not provide amnesty. It is a two-year renewable permission to remain without fear of deportation.
- DACA does not allow recipients to qualify for Medicare of Medicaid … or any government benefits.
- DACA does not allow recipients to qualify for Social Security.
The government services listed above, and which are most frequently used to misrepresent the program, are only available to United States citizens. Illegal or undocumented residents have never been entitled to government services … even if they have paid into the system their entire lives.
DACA residents do qualify for drivers’ licenses and Social Security cards which allow them to pay taxes, enroll in college, and drive legally. Those Social Security cards are also used to file their payroll tax deductions for items such as federal and state taxes, and Social Security withdrawal.
But if they do not take the next step to achieve U.S. citizenship they will pay Social Security taxes their entire lives and never qualify for retirement income or medical benefits. And that’s the law, regardless of what some people may claim.
This link to FOX News explains the Trump Administration’s decision to end DACA and his support for the children who are affected.