Welcoming Dreamers

by Steve Bahls

From a sermon originally delivered in Ascension Chapel, Augustana College.

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)

Good morning. Thanks to Pastor Priggie and the campus ministries team for allowing me to speak about something that I am passionate about and something personal to me, namely DACA – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA applied to about 690,000 immigrants who arrived as children, shielding them from deportation. It also provided that these individuals could obtain work permits. Many of those receiving this important protection are students at America’s colleges and universities.

Last year, after President Trump threatened revocation of DACA, I joined 650 college and university presidents in expressing support of DACA and in support of Congress passing the Dream Act, allowing DACA recipients a pathway to citizenship. In addition, I joined with three other business leaders to publish an editorial in the Quad City Times urging passage of the Dream Act, and citing the benefits to our local economy to continue the contributions of DACA recipients who are employed. I visited with Representative Bustos and Senator Durbin, to urge that they team up with Republicans to pass the Dream Act. The finger pointing continues in Washington, D.C., without a Dream Act being passed.

The day after Easter this year was the last straw for me, when President Trump, after blasting Mexico on Easter Sunday, tweeted that “DACA is Dead.” On April 11, Augustana College and about 40 other colleges and universities filed an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in the case of Martin Jonathan Batalla Vidal vs. Trump to support a district court’s decision to prohibit the Trump administration from revocation of DACA. Our argument was simple. We have “seen firsthand the positive effects of the DACA program on our campuses.” Our hope is that this legal action will keep DACA in effect for another year until a new Congress can pass the Dream Act by a veto-proof majority.

Today, I’d like to tell you why I decided to take action. I’d like to take you back 150 years.

In 1868, a young man named Karl emigrated from Germany. Like many immigrants today, he left for economic opportunity. As a baby, he was left on the doorstep of a Lutheran church, where the pastor and his wife adopted him. He traveled to Calhoun County, Iowa, and was welcomed by other immigrants from Germany. After working on their farms for a while, he was able to purchase his own farm. Together these immigrants became the pillars of their community. They founded a Lutheran church near Webster City, Iowa, that is still serving God today. Karl provided land for the church building.

There were ups and downs for Karl’s descendants. His grandson lost the farm during the Great Depression. Because of the grandson’s illness after the death of his wife, the family had to be split up. But relatives and the church provided a safety net. The family got back on their feet when Karl’s great grandson, also named Carl, become the first in the family to go to college. This Carl received a free education because of his service in World War II. A favorable government program in the 1950s made home ownership easy. Karl and his descendants worked hard, to be sure, but they were always welcomed, seldom discriminated against, and were beneficiaries of various safety nets during their down times.

Karl, starting from when he was a baby, and Karl’s family through the generations were welcomed by those who followed God’s admonition in the book of Leviticus: Welcome the stranger, because we were all once strangers.

By now you have probably guessed that Karl’s last name was Bahls and he was my great, great grandfather. And a few of you know that my middle name is Carl, as a reminder of how blessed my family has been. I, in particular, have been blessed to have had careers as a lawyer, a professor, and now a college president.

But I also see this blessing as a duty. A duty to use my talent to “do something,” and in rolling my work as a lawyer, professor, and college president into one, I was able to join lawyers and other college presidents in taking concrete action to support the continuation of DACA until a new Congress summons the courage to pass the Dream Act. And it was particularly significant for me to do this at Augustana – a college that was founded to provide opportunities to immigrants.

As members of the Augustana community, we are all blessed. May we move from complaining about problems to using our talents to help solve problems. That’s why your professors and I love being part of this college, because we can play a small part in developing action-oriented leaders of the future.