Cruzando el Río Grande – Towards a Theological Understanding of DACA

Victor Chininin Buele

A dear friend asked for my thoughts on the difficult subject of DACA.  I’m not precisely sure what perspective was sought, but this is clearly not something that can be easily typed on Facebook comments.

My thesis is that DACA is an opportunity for the United States to start moving towards repentance.  It is also an opportunity to give and receive grace.  DACA is not to be seen through the lenses of entitlement, and we need to be careful to not proclaim ourselves to be without sin on the subject.

Let me expand on that.

My friend was responding to somebody posting the following on Facebook:

So my house was broken into yesterday while I was at work. Don’t worry, George is ok [sic].

Fortunately, the alarm[sic] told me and Summit police apprehended a man with his 10 year old daughter ransacking the house.

The bad news is, my neighbors took a vote and decided the girl was innocent and only there because her dad brought her.  Now, I have to give her a room, feed her and pay for her to go to school.  Worse yet, since she would be abandoned if her dad goes to jail, he’s been found innocent and I have to let him stay with the girl and feed him too [punctuation sic].

If you think this sounds unfair, then you understand DACA.

A few starting points:

  1. I am a naturalized United States citizen and a natural citizen of Ecuador.
  2. It took more than fifteen years to become a United States citizen.
  3. I have first-hand experience (though not in the first person) with what it is to be an illegal or an undocumented immigrant, semantics aside.  Don’t stop reading if I switch to using the word illegal below.  I have always sought to follow U.S. law.  Please forgive my uneasiness about using the word undocumented.
  4. I have first-hand experience of the immigration system of the United States, and the high cost it demands from those who go through it.
  5. I am a Christian.  I believe that the Word of God is true and God-breathed.  I believe it is authoritative. I believe that it is our guide and the revelation of Jesus Christ to all humankind.  It is in the Bible that we find the gospel–that we are sinners who cannot save themselves but who through the blood of Jesus Christ given in sacrifice on the cross can have their sins forgiven and can move forward on the path towards daily, practical sanctification, being transformed daily into the image of Christ, one degree of glory to the next.  In simple words, I believe what the Bible says, and I seek to do all things in a Christ-encompassing way.  All things in Christ for all the world.  I believe that if we do what God has revealed to us, God will be with us.
  6. I have a bit of a personal crusade against caricatures and straw men arguments.  We have got to learn to listen to each other, understand another person’s opinions, and interact form that point of view.  We don’t get a pass to respond to the worst caricature of a position.

With all of that said, what do I think about DACA?

1.  We are all guilty of sin–we did not love our neighbor as ourselves.

There are many layers on which DACA shows us our sin. Many Americans never thought for a second about the children of immigrants, much less whether they were legal or illegal, as long as our toilets were clean, our strawberries were picked, our meat packaged by someone else.  For decades we allowed a system to exploit human beings who had a desperate need for hope.  Ecuador collapsed in the late 1990’s.  Many Ecuadorians lost everything, the savings of a lifetime.  Certain municipalities in New Jersey took the brunt of this crisis as they became little Ecuadors.  The economy of cities like New York have been built upon these people’s suffering.  You can only pay so much for a slice of pizza at Sbarro’s when you are walking through Times Square.  I am fairly certain that not very many stopped to think of the small town in Southern Ecuador that was left with no men as the man cutting your pizza left it all behind under horrific conditions to cross the Río Grande in hope of providing for his kids.  These kids were left behind, grew up with a grandmother at best, no parents, and were easy preys to all kinds of difficulty.  One day, the parents saved enough (or took on serious debt) to pay a coyote to get them across the border.  In hope.  We have to acknowledge that.  We did not love our neighbor as ourselves. We must realize that a big reason sanctuary cities are sanctuary cities is not because they are highly evolved, loving and caring, and all about social justice.  If people needed to pay for the real price of things in those economies, the entire economic dynamics would need to change.  In order to get a $1 burger, you can only pay somebody so much.  If everyone had the same rights and access to fair wages, i.e., if they had legal documents, the cost of said burger would be much higher.  Christ’s humility is radically different than ours.  In Philippians 2 we are called to imitate said humility that counts others as more significant than ourselves.  That’s so radical because we are always after finding the best deal for us.  Not for others.  We are guilty.

2. They broke the law.

Horrific economic conditions need to clearly be understood.  When you learn that somebody cleans toilets in the United States or washes dishes in the United States for more than you make a day in Ecuador, temptation becomes very real.  And then you hear that Pepito’s cousin and Maria’s sister made it across the border, and that they have a house in Queens.  The story is properly exaggerated to make it sound like they are the next Rockefellers.  You start thinking you can make it, too.  Coyotes come and promise you for a few thousand dollars to get you across the desert.  Let’s not kid ourselves.  The whole enterprise is highly illegal and dangerous, abusive and criminal.  It is sinful.  God will not look kindly upon coyotes at the judgment.  Those who steal from the needy and do violence are repulsive to God.  Yet, we also have to acknowledge that it is sufficiently clear for anyone entering into a contract or a transaction to come to the U.S. that the enterprise is illegal.  Everybody knows that it is against the law, and they know the risks of getting caught.  For the adults, it should be very straightforward.  They paid a coyote to help them break the law.  Yes, it was a horrific decision to be made and a painful one exasperated by a number of unthinkable circumstances.  But they were not coerced to do it. For their kids, the conversation turns a little sour.  We can argue degrees of innocence here until Kingdom comes, but I would simply want to say that there is a significant difference between sending an eight year old via the Mexican desert with a coyote and buying the kid a ticket on DL 680 from Quito to Atlanta.  The law was broken. And it is awful that these children had to endure many times the horrors of inhumane transportation conditions and living quarters, with limited or no water and/or food, prolonged time in the desert and exposure to the elements.

3. Most politicians are sinful opportunists.

We are where we are because politicians refused to enact national immigration law that made sense to the circumstances we had.  We were the rich Uncle Sam up north while our neighbors to the south literally starved to death.  Instead of owning their responsibility, they went down a different path–Leave it to the school districts to figure out how to hire ESL teachers, how to get ahold of parents who spoke no English, how to educate children with very little parental communication with the teachers.  Leave it to the local health departments to provide immunizations.  Leave it to the emergency rooms to deal with catastrophic health issues and non-so-catastrophic surprises.  Leave it to the states and charities to pay for births and WIC and food stamps.  Politicians sat on this and did nothing.  They have also sinned.


4.  We are called to love the widow, the immigrant, and the orphan.

Christianity necessarily results in love and care for the widow, the immigrant, and the orphan.  Many dreamers are practical or true orphans.  Many were raised without parents.  Many had parents who died crossing the border or in the dangerous work they had.  Many women were left as widows, affairs were had, marriage vows broken.  We cannot close doors upon the needy.

5.  DACA is a start, an insufficient start, but a start nonetheless.

I testify to you that being a legal immigrant has been a very difficult thing.  It has cost a lot of money, heartache, sorrow, embarrassment, time, and anxiety.  There is not a simple way to run through the rails of this system.  I have a college education, and my skills are highly valued in the current U.S. economy.  Even so, I had a lawyer malpractice scenario intersect with significant government delays, and I ended up becoming an illegal immigrant for two weeks.  Once my petition was resolved, it was retroactive, so this is not a part of my records today.  But trust me, the feeling I had when I was told to step away from my cubicle and leave, the feeling I had driving home knowing there would be no paycheck, the feeling I had coming home to my wife that day…

Life in the shadows is not a life.

Jesus came that his children would have life and live it to the fullest. He is the Good Shepherd.

DACA is an executive order.  Yes, you are certainly free to raise concerns about this being addressed as a presidential executive order rather than as legislation.  But in that debate we continue to ignore the fact that our democratically elected representatives and senators did nothing.

Repentance is necessary.

We need to repent of our lack of love for neighbor.

Undocumented workers need to repent of violating the law.

Dreamers need to repent, in certain cases, of entitlement.  Repentance is also needed from breaking the law.

Politicians need to repent of their sinful neglect of their responsibility.


And then.


Grace must abound.

We must find a way to restore the repentant, to lift up the downcast, and to make amends.

But now, that everybody is all of a sudden in love with the dreamers, be careful to not forget grace and start acting all entitled. A lot of people are very compassionate now.  They want dreamers to be free. And that’s a noble thing.  But, repentance is required because we must all answer the question, where were we when these kids needed us the most?  Where were we when politicians refused to act upon immigration law reform that made sense and that would have helped everyone?

But let’s approach this with a sober mind.  Walking in repentance is difficult.

The economic balance of our cities is not going to be the same.

Prices will change.

We all need to own up our responsibilities and move forward in repentance.  The path for American citizenship is a very secondary matter compared to the path to everlasting joy in Christ.  Actions have consequences.  And without repentance there will be no joy.  Christ is light.  Whatever he touches will never be the same.

I dream of the moment where this America stops avoiding responsibility and repents and turns to love God, do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God (cf. Micah 6:8).

I want the dreamers to have joy.  Not just a citizenship in a place that will not last for eternity.  I want them to be citizens of the kingdom that cannot be shaken.

We must press on to end this non-sensical political stalemate.  Lives matter more than political interests.  It was never said, “Blessed are those who seek their own self-interest and turn a blind eye on the needy, for they shall see God.”




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