The clock is ticking.
At the stroke of midnight on Thursday, undocumented residents who were brought to the United States as children will no longer be able to apply for deportation deferral. For the last five-and-a-half years, Georgia Baptists in Colquitt County have been working to help as many as possible — in a state that reportedly has some 24,000 who are undocumented — complete the paperwork which would temporarily delay them possibly being removed from their families and returned to their countries of birth.
Georgia Baptists are known by many for their literacy missions work and helping those legally in the U.S. complete their path to citizenship. Involvement with the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program) ministry falls under the possibility that DACA could provide recipients a path to citizenship — and keep the family unit intact. But that citizenship is not automatic.
DACA qualification is rigorous and requires a nearly-perfect record, free of virtually all encounters with law enforcement. That is why, for numerous Thursday nights, Memorial Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga., has been helping young teens like Jonathan Cervantes avoid deportation.
His first encounter with the church was through a Vacation Bible School van driving down his dirt road neighborhood on a humid summer morning. At five years old he accepted the invitation of a friend and accompanied her to church for the first time.
Jonathan has been living under the radar for the past 15 years as an undocumented immigrant. His parents had come to the United States on a work Visa but had temporarily left him with his grandmother until they could establish themselves.
If they had known at the time, they could have brought him and established his residency. But instead, while living in Moultrie, his parents eventually saved and scrimped to pay a coyote — an individual who specializes in human trafficking — nearly $5,000 to sneak him into the country from Mexico. It was extremely risky and a high price to pay to reunite the family. Many such children die en route, suffocating in packed trucks with little ventilation or dying in the desert.
Jonathan was a fortunate one.
His parents are hard-working people, seeking the American dream through low-paying jobs that are plentiful in south Georgia. So Jonathan, from the first day he enrolled in a Moultrie kindergarten without any paperwork, became an undocumented immigrant.
That designation and a change of administration in Washington has placed him at the heart of a national debate. The focus is what to do with children who grew up under the radar and who face deportation to a nation they never knew.
Children from many nations face possible deportation. Those nations could include any place where parents struggle to raise their children in a safe environment.
Because Congress didn’t act on the legal status of the children, President Obama created the DACA program as a Band-Aid, subject to renewal. On Sept. 5, President Trump cancelled the program, giving Congress six months to provide a solution.
For the children, the threat of being removed from their families is once again a reality.
Those who file their paperwork by Oct. 5 and are approved have a two-year extension against deportation. When their deferment expires they can be deported. Those who do not file can be deported immediately.
Members of Memorial Baptist Church in this county seat town of 15,000 are working to stand in the gap, helping those eligible with the paperwork. They are working to keep families together as allowed by law — until the law says otherwise.
Nothing is guaranteed during the next six months of twilight that Congress has to create a comprehensive immigration plan. If it fails to act, current immigration law will continue to impact those families.
That is where Jonathan and the church fit into the picture.
Jonathan, now 17 years of age, was born far away on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. When he stepped into that Vacation Bible School van he knew very little English — but he and his parents trusted the church down the street.
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Source: Baptist Pres