WASHINGTON (ABP) — Christian leaders were among those joining a coordinated, last-ditch effort Nov. 30 to get Congress to pass a bill providing a path to legal status for the undocumented children of illegal immigrants.
“Each year approximately 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school — many at the top of their class — but cannot go to college, cannot get a job or otherwise fulfill their dreams,” said John Richardson, North Carolina regional minister for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), in a Nov. 30 conference call organized by proponents of the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act. “Smart, hard-working kids face an uncertain future.”
The bill — whose best chance for passing anytime before 2013 is almost certainly in Congress’ current lame-duck session – would target the children of illegal immigrants whose parents brought them to the United States after they were born. Although such children are now educated in public schools, their lack of citizenship or residency documentation prevents most of them from attending college or getting good-paying jobs — no matter how much they excel in school.
Among other requirements, it would allow students a path to residency if:
- They can prove heir parents brought them to the United States before they were 16;
- They have been in the country at least five years;
- They have graduated from high school;
- They plan to attend college or enter the military; and
- They maintain “good moral character” and avoid legal trouble.
The bill would also give eligible students in-state tuition costs and offer them federal student loans, although they would still be denied access to federal Pell grants.
“The DREAM Act alone will not solve our broken immigration system, but will bring thousands of students — starting with kids — out of the shadows,” Richardson said.
Troy Jackson, an evangelical pastor in Cincinnati, cited the case of 18-year-old Bernard Pastor, a 2010 graduate of the Cincinnati-area Reading High School. Pastor — a standout soccer player in school and volunteer Pentecostal youth pastor — was brought illegally to the United States 15 years ago when his parents fled civil war and religious persecution in their native Guatemala. On Nov. 17, he was arrested and detained by immigration authorities after being involved in a minor car accident.
Jackson called on retiring Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), a past supporter of the bill, to vote for it in the lame-duck session.
“We cannot afford to have an Ohio where Bernard Pastors are being picked up and sent into deportation procedures, Jackson, who has also become an advocate for Pastor, said. “It’s unjust, it’s unfair and it is not the love that God teaches us in the Scriptures.”
But the bill faces an uphill battle. While similar bills have enjoyed significant bipartisan support in previous Congresses, many Republicans have withdrawn their support in the past two years under pressure from the Tea Party movement and other anti-illegal-immigration parts of the GOP base.
Opponents claim the bill rewards illegal behavior and would be unfair to citizens and legal residents who are competing for college admissions and jobs.
“If anyone wonders why there is such a thing as a Tea Party all they have to do is look at legislation like this,” wrote conservative Catholic activist Deal Hudson, in a Dallas Morning News online sampling of religious leaders' views on the bill. "If passed, it would mean that a legal citizen born in Oklahoma, for example, would have to pay a higher rate of tuition at the University of Texas than an illegal whose parents smuggled into the country. The DREAM Act, therefore, grants economic privileges to persons because they are illegal, privileges denied to a legal citizen.”
But Jim Denison, the Baptist General Convention of Texas’ theologian-in-residence and an Associated Baptist Press columnist, said denying smart kids an education beyond high school or decent jobs hardly seems just.
“There may be legal or political reasons for rejecting the DREAM Act. But it's hard to imagine that Jesus would refuse children an opportunity to achieve their highest potential,” he wrote.
Robert Marus is managing editor and Washington bureau chief for Associated Baptist Press.
Related ABP content:
Opinion: Pass the DREAM Act (11/16/2010)