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North Texas Pastor Lobbies Congress for Compassion and Reform for Immigrants and Dreamers

A group of evangelicals, led by a local pastor, wants Congress to act quickly and compassionately to help Dreamers seeking a path to U.S. citizenship
A group of evangelicals, led by a local pastor, wants Congress to act quickly and compassionately to help Dreamers seeking a path to U.S. citizenship Brad Greeff / iStock
Rafael Munoz understands the importance of the issue facing “Dreamers” in the federal courts. He’s a first-generation child of an immigrant family from a border town near Del Rio, where he was born. It was a personal journey for him and his family, and one he’s been trying to help other migrant children with since 2014.

“Dreamers” refers to undocumented people brought to the United States as minors by undocumented parents. Even though many of them grew up in the United States and are unfamiliar with their native countries, they still face the threat of deportation. The name comes from the never-passed Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, first introduced in Congress in 2001, that aims to provide them certain protections.

Munoz serves as pastor of mobilization and ministries at Primera Iglesia Bautista in Dallas, a congregation that has a number of immigrants and refugees who have applied for asylum after fleeing danger and violence in their own countries.

It’s the reason he traveled with 200 evangelical advocates from around the country in November to attend the National Immigration Forum in Washington, D.C., and meet with 40 senators to discuss the dire issues facing refugees as well as Dreamers.

An Urgent Need

The House passed the American Dream and Promise Act in March 2021. Advocates argued that it would protect the 1.9 million Dreamers and their families, 100,000 of whom are located in Texas. The Senate didn't take up the bill, and lawmakers and immigrant advocates are struggling to push through a reform package that could help Dreamers and enhance border security before a new Congress, one in which Republicans hold a majority in the House, is seated next year.

In late October, the federal government began accepting and processing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) renewal requests and accompanying requests for employment authorization, though it will only accept but not process initial DACA requests, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. DACA, an initiative from the Obama administration that the Trump White House attempted to end, provides some Dreamers protection against deportation.

Now seemed like the perfect time — and the most urgent one — for Munoz and the 200 evangelical advocates to travel to the capital. Despite the federal government's reopening DACA in late October, advocates say further inaction will lead to a humanitarian crisis if Congress doesn’t act this session.

One of Munoz’s congressional stops was Sen. Ted Cruz’s office. Cruz, whose birth name is Rafael Edward Cruz, seemed like the perfect champion for hopeful DACA recipients. The senator comes from an immigrant family who were refugees to the U.S. from Cuba in the 1950s.

“As a matter of fact, we haven’t heard back, not any response.” – Rafael Munoz, Pastor of Mobilization and Ministries at Primera Iglesia Bautista Dallas

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Cruz wasn’t available to meet with them. Instead, Munoz’s group presented information to his staff about what they could do for Dreamers and DACA, what they could do with the Farm Workforce Modernization Act and how the senator could help meet refugee needs. Munoz says they also wanted to discuss some of Cruz’s vocal concerns regarding border security.

“As a matter of fact, we haven’t heard back, not any response,” Munoz says. “We shared our contact information and are hoping that it will come soon. We believe the conversation could lead to one of inclusivity. One of the things that stood out to me was to be part of the solution, you have to be part of the conversation.”

But that conversation may not be happening with Republicans, whose Texas bunch initially indicated they were open to the idea. Sen. John Cornyn told reporters, according to a Dec. 13 Texas Tribune report, that “it’s going to be very hard” for the topic to be addressed next year.

“I believe there are a number of obstacles,” Munoz says. “We need to get good information out in front of people. The media at times can build this sentiment of fear, that we should fear immigrants coming in through the U.S., coming through our southern border and feeding the fear to create this derailment. We want humane and secure solutions, and sometimes those conversations are derailed by peer tactics and being misinformed.”

A Battle with Public Perception and the Media

Hunter West, an evangelical immigration advocate from World Relief Duarham, a faith-based nonprofit in Durham, North Carolina, agrees with Munoz and points out that misinformation is the reason why the National Immigration Forum and its current mission is so important. She claims that immigrants have been dehumanized.

“A big part of this job is discipleship, but most of evangelicals' information about immigrants is not from what the Bible says but comes from Fox News and CNN. Immigrants aren’t beneficial, they say, and are criminals,” West explains. “But most of these individuals are coming to better their life and work jobs that Americans don’t want to work. The biggest obstacle is the media.”

It doesn’t help that President Joe Biden hasn’t been a bigger part of the conversation. On a recent trip to Arizona, he failed to visit the border and speak with those who are directly affected by what Republican leaders often call a border crisis. In a Dec. 7 press release, Cornyn expressed what Munoz and other evangelical advocates have been saying about many Republicans: “The president might have actually learned something if he had taken a few minutes to talk to the people who work and live at the border.”

For several years, Munoz has been working on immigration advocacy and collaborating with other organizations, including the National Association of Evangelicals. In what may surprise those who have become accustomed to conservative political leaders fashioning themselves as religious gurus while chanting “Build that wall,” Munoz says NAE is “becoming a voice around this issue of immigration reform.”
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Rafael Munoz, pastor of mobilization and ministries at Primera Iglesia Bautista (back row, second from right), joined evangelical advocates from across the country for the National Immigration Forum in Washington.
Courtesy of Rafael Munoz
A long commitment “to welcoming immigrants and refugees,” as the NAE notes on its website, led the evangelical association to the National Immigration Forum. They also formed the Alliance for a New Immigration Consensus, a public coalition of 30 organizations related to agriculture, business, education, faith and national security that is building support for bipartisan legislative issues around the immigration crisis.

“Simply put, the system is broken,” the coalition wrote in a March 2 letter to Congress. “Millions of workers, many of whom were indispensable to America’s COVID-19 response, are living in legal jeopardy. Apprehensions at the southern border are at historic highs. Employers are also struggling to find workers to fill jobs in many industries.”

The Alliance has been working toward providing permanent legal protections for agriculture workers, Dreamers and those with temporary protected status, and recently praised the bipartisan effort led by Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis to strengthen border security while also providing a path to legal status for dreamers.

“Senators Tillis and Sinema have introduced a thoughtful foundation that reflects years of bipartisan debate and policy proposals,” the Alliance wrote in a Dec. 5 press release. “We urge more of their colleagues to come to the table. American voters will stand with those who advance common-sense solutions in the final weeks of the 117th Congress to bolster border security and protect Dreamers, as well as update agriculture workforce programs to reduce food prices and counter labor shortages.”

But as Coryn pointed out, Congress isn’t willing to have that conversation, not yet. Until then, Munoz and his colleagues will remain ready to have that conversation and to turn those words into action for Dreamers in Texas and beyond.
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Christian McPhate is an award-winning journalist who specializes in investigative reporting. He covers crime, the environment, business, government and social justice. His work has appeared in several publications, including the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the Miami Herald, San Antonio Express News and The Washington Times.

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