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My friend Jonathan plans to return to the Apache reservation for the fourth time this fall to continue the Christian mission work he has been doing to help overcome high rates of depression and alcoholism within the tribe and to tutor education and faith development. He has a gift for inspiring. With his infectious smile and boundless energy, Jonathan can make people believe in their best possibilities.

When he lived here in Northwest Arkansas, Jonathan was "Counselor of the Year" at a summer camp where he worked with at-risk kids. He ministered at Good Samaritan House, Angel Food and Christ on Campus. At home now in Atlanta, he volunteers with Nightlight Ministry to prevent human sex trafficking, he tutors refugees, and he helps raise money for Delta Care Fund, his workplace emergency benevolence program.

I first got to know Jonathan Chavez in 2011 when he was in jail. My parishioner, his voice teacher, was incensed. "Can't you do something?" she cried. "He's a wonderful child!" She told me about his musical talent and his intellect. Jonathan was then a music major in the Honors College at the University of Arkansas. At the Christmas break he took a bus to Florida to visit his mother and got picked up when the immigration authorities asked every brown person getting off the bus to show identification. Jonathan had no ID, no papers.

Jonathan was brought to the U.S. when he was 14. His parents entered legally on a tourist visa hoping to obtain work visas. Jonathan's father found a good job and the family settled. The adults attained permanent residency. Jonathan graduated from Rogers High School with straight A's, but someone fumbled his residency application, and when he turned 18, he became an undocumented adult -- no driver's license, no Social Security Card, no legal work, subject to arrest and deportation for getting off a bus.

Jonathan is now a beneficiary of the 2012 DACA program -- Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. In 2013 he got his DACA work permit. He is a supervisor for Delta Airlines, leading a quality improvement team in Atlanta, the company's headquarters city. He is working on a distance masters of business administration program through John Brown University. He sings in the Atlanta Opera Chorus and is active in Grace Midtown Church.

DACA recipients were brought to the U.S. as children 16 and under (one-third of them were 5 or younger when they arrived). They've lived here continuously for over 10 years, and they were under 31 years old as of June 2012. They are in school, have graduated from high school, obtained a GED, or have been honorably discharged from military service. And, they have not been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor or more than three misdemeanors of any kind. They must pass a biographic and biometric background check to show that they do not pose a threat to national security or public safety.

DACA is a life-giving opportunity for young people who were brought to this country as children. It allows them to come out of the shadows, no longer fearful of arrest and deportation. They can get a driver's license and a Social Security card and a job.

So Jonathan is one of the DACA kids and is "in line," going through all of the legal processes toward residency. When his mother filed residency papers for him in 2011, the Immigration Service was reviewing applications from 2004. He's still "in line," and thinks they are up to reviewing August 2010 applications.

The DACA permit must be renewed every two years. That process is pretty slow, too. When Jonathan renewed in 2015, sending all his reapplication papers on time and early, the process was backed up nine months and he had to leave his Delta job in Atlanta and move back to Fayetteville waiting for the paperwork. He got some political help to quicken the process and eventually was renewed. Delta happily welcomed him back. It went better in 2017, the renewal coming just four days before his expiration. It's a stressful process.

The DACA program is threatened. There is a potential lawsuit challenge in September, and the Trump administration has been ambiguous on its stance. The president could rescind DACA by a simple presidential order. It is an anxious time for some 750,000 young people like Jonathan. If he ever leaves the U.S. for any reason, he will not be allowed to return for 10 years.

But Jonathan has faith. "I do believe that Christ is above all these things. I know he is with me."

Commentary on 08/15/2017

Print Headline: In line and waiting

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