Matt The video story that I shared yesterday introduced many of you to what is called the DREAM Act. I learned of this proposal from my son, Matt. Matt pastors a multi-ethnic congregation and thus remains deeply involved in issues of justice and compassion day-to-day. I would like to explain this sane and humane act as clearly as possible so I asked Matt to help me. Here is what I learned.

The DREAM Act says that to be eligible, a student:

1. Must have come to the U.S. before the age of 16.

2. Must have lived here for at least five years.

3. Must have graduated from high school.

If they meet those three criteria, then such immigrants get a five-year visa and need to do one of the following during those five years:

1. Serve two years in the military.

2. Get two years of college credit.

If they do one of those two things, then they can receive permanent resident status and enter a pathway that can lead to citizenship. Think about this calmly and you realize that it makes sense on so many levels:

1. Economically: These young people will be hard workers who after two years of college or military service are going to enhance our economy.

2. Morally: These young adults are caught between a rock and a hard place. The video explains this better than my words. For many of these kids, the U.S. is their home and all that they can ever remember. The girl in the video came here at age seven, her younger sister was only five. They have both grown up here. They have three younger siblings who have all been born here. So, three of the five kids are citizens and two of them are supposed to be deported under the current system.

3. Politically: My son has tried to explain to our congressman, and to other Republican officials who oppose this act, that their party can ill afford to alienate millions and millions of Hispanic voters. Immigration laws will change, and if the Republicans aren't part of it, they will lose a huge voting bloc that shares so many of their other values (pro-life, pro-heterosexual-marriage, strong sense of family).

Based on these sound arguments, arguments rooted in common sense and moral concern for the weak among us, my son then wrote the following letter to our U. S. Congressman, a Christian that I have supported and voted for twice in the congressional elections. I have also written my congressman, whom I admire and respect very highly, about the same issue when he first was elected to Congress in 2006 after a very narrow victory over a heavily financed Democrat who put up a major fight for the seat that had been held for decades by the late Henry Hyde, the famous sponsor of the Hyde Amendment on abortion. Here is Matt’s personal letter, one which I agree with very deeply.

Dear Rep. Roskam,

I want to begin by saying thank you for meeting with the group of us that came to talk about H.B.2478 (LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009). I appreciate your receptivity to hearing about this issue that concerns us and for agreeing to co-sponsor this bill.

I would also like to express several comments regarding our brief exchange over the DREAM Act. First, while you were very open to hearing about Uganda, you seemed unwilling to even listen to our viewpoint on this issue. While we may end up disagreeing, I would like to feel listened to, and I am more than willing to listen to your views as well. You did raise some points that I have been thinking about.

Second, I would be very interested in learning what you would propose as far as dealing with the many, many people in your district and in my town who are here illegally. I understand you do not like the DREAM Act, and I understand why. However, we have a serious problem right now, and we do need leaders who will show us the way forward, so I appeal to you to explain how we should reform immigration policy to deal with the current situation, or if you believe the laws we have now are adequate how we can step up enforcement without wreaking havoc on our town with hundreds of homes will be left vacant.

I would like to suggest that there is a continuum of law. On one end, there are minor traffic offenses. Almost everyone, myself included, has at some point received a speeding ticket. We have broken the law and face the consequences. On the other end of the continuum are those who have committed violent crimes. In my view, children brought here by their parents are not guilty of a serious crime. They were, in fact, arguably victims of crime. The DREAM Act does not give them amnesty. It would give them an opportunity to earn the legal right to remain in the country they know and love. Not only is this the most humane thing we could do, but it makes sense economically. These children have been here receiving an American education at a cost of $10,000 or more per year in tax dollars, and now we want to send those who are availing themselves of that education that we paid for to a foreign country instead of allowing them to contribute positively to our economy.

In addition to the humanitarian and economic concerns, there is a political concern as well. Latinos are socially conservative like you and me, and Republicans can little afford to lose their votes over this one issue. Even if the DREAM Act never passes, the girl in the video, for one example, has three younger siblings who were born here. In eight years one of them will be voting. Even though he likely will share so many values with you and me, I am sure he will never understand your position on this issue, and he will vote on this issue. Long term, a stance that is viewed as anti-immigrant by many will be a losing proposition. As well, your view on this is alienating people in your “base,” namely evangelicals.

Again, I thank you for taking the time to meet with us today. I have a great deal of respect for you, and I pray for you as our leader and representative in Washington. I do know that serving well is a tremendous challenge.

Very Sincerely Yours,

Matt Armstrong

I challenge you to get to know more abo
ut the problem of immigratio
n and how to solve it. I challenge you even more to spend time with real Christians who are deeply and personally touched by this vexing legal issue. I believe that if you will take this step of faith you will be forced to think differently about this subject. I further believe that if you really get involved, as Matt is involved as a missional-ecumenical pastor, then you will soon see that the solutions commonly offered by the political and social right are simply sub-Christian answers to a very complex moral issue. In no way am I endorsing illegal immigration. But I am directly challenging my Christian brothers and sisters to consider far better ways to solve this very life-changing issue before we pass more bad laws like the one recently passed in Arizona. Frankly, I am glad that the Arizona law passed because it alone has forced more people to wake up to this issue than any single act over the last decade or more. I believe that a great social movement now stands on our doorstep, much like the civil rights movement of the 1960s once did, and our response will either change America for the better or tragically set it back. Will most white Christians sit on the sidelines or get involved?

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  1. The resistance to immigration reform in this country is bewildering to me.
    I can understand the problems with identity theft and the use of public services without contributing to the taxes that provide them, but those are separate issues and largely a problem because of the ease of getting into the country illegally and the difficulty of getting in otherwise..
    I think that the DREAM act is too strict. Children brought here by their parents are at the most, victims of their parents’ crime.
    Anyone who is not wanted for a legitimate crime in their own country should be able to get a visa to work or go to school here.
    I really don’t see the problem.
    The phobia about immigrants stealing jobs is exactly that. If you cannot get a better job than someone who generally speaks little, if any English, then maybe you should be worrying about your lack of education and lack of work ethic.

  2. Matt Armstrong May 20, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    The subject of immigration reform is complex because we as Christians must balance two principles. We must welcome the stranger, showing love to our neighbor. But at the same time, we are commanded by Scripture to submit to the governing authorities. For this reason, we have a moral dilemma. To me it is less of a dilemma when I consider that the U.S. has, as a friend of mine puts it, had both a “stop” sign and a “help wanted” sign hanging on our border for a very long time. We tell people not to come here, but then when they do we are happy to give then ITIN’s and take their money in taxes. We enroll their children in schools and give a slap on the wrist to employers hire knowingly hire people without a legal right to work in the U.S. This policy just doesn’t make sense. So, it is time that we admit that our own policies and laws have contributed substantially to the presence of 10-12 million undocumented immigrants here.
    Ronald Reagan dealt once before with the issue of those who were here illegally, but his response was only half right. He allowed people to stay (which was good), but he did nothing to stem the flow of people into the country and so the illegal population has grown and grown. Now there are people saying that we must “secure the border,” and they are right. The problem is that these people want to address the half Reagan forgot, but they don’t want to talk about what is a humane way to deal with families that are here now (the part Reagan addressed). Immigration reform must be comprehensive and future-looking. It must work to remove the “help wanted” sign from our border while at the same time keep families together and admit that our own policies helped create this problem. What’s more, in a community like the one I live in, a significant percentage of homes are owned by undocumented people. If all these homes were empty, our local economy would be hit harder than it is right now.
    Finally, I want to address a common objection to the DREAM Act. Sometimes the argument is made that making a pathway to citizenship for these young people is rewarding them for breaking the law. In response to this I would suggest that if anything, these minors are victims. A child under the age of 13 is almost never charged with a crime (not even as a juvenile) because our laws recognize an age of accountability. In other words, it is absolutely ridiculous to say that a child of seven years old broke the law by entering the U.S. illegally with their parent because a child of 7 cannot commit a crime in the eyes of the law. They are not old enough to be held accountable. As well, even as that child grows up and turns 16 or 17, they are still dependent upon their parents even though they are now old enough to understand the illegality of their parents actions. There is nothing magic about 18 or 19 years old, and many young people remain because they are still dependent on their parents.
    I am thankful that evangelical leaders are finally taking notice of the injustice that is occurring with our current immigration system. Thanks for posting this!

  3. Matthew Soerens May 20, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    Thanks for sharing this, John, and thanks to Matt for his consistent advocacy on behalf of the kids in his church and community. The DREAM Act is such an important piece of legislation for so many young people in local churches. Beyond just the issue of young people, there are also many others in our churches whose lives are affected by a dramatically broken immigration system. Immmigration is the rare issue where the National Association of Evangelicals, the US Catholic Bishops, the National Council of Churches, and the Southern Baptist Convention are all in agreement — our nation desperately and urgently needs Comprehensive Immigration Reform that secures our borders, makes reasonable legal mechanisms for the entry of the workers that our economy needs (and their families), and requires and allows those currently here unlawfully to pay a fine and get on a long-term path to citizenship & integration.

  4. Chuck May 20, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    Dr. Armstrong,
    Thank you for your thoughts on the immigration issue. As a Texan this issue is especially pertinent to me and my family. It’s a complex problem and I have appreciated your challenging perspective.
    With all due respect however I see your perspective as being noticeably slanted toward the “left”, or maybe I should say, “against the “right”. Fair enough. If the debate on this issue is to be balanced however, we must expose the culpability of both the left and right and their own unique contribution to this problem. I assure you Dr. Armstrong, there is plenty of blame to share on both sides. To accuse those on the “political and social right” of commonly offering nothing but “sub-Christian answers” is a bold statement. I wonder, would you make the same statement about the political and social left? I believe such a statement should be made, because it is at least as true for them as it is for the other. A case could be made that we would have no need for a DREAM Act if those, primarily on the political and social left, had not spent so many years aiding and abetting those here without legal status, and basically subverting our immigration laws, much of it in the name of compassion. Don’t get me wrong. I’ll not defend the sins of the “right”, but I think it equally proper to acknowledge the sins of the “left” as well.
    You and I are in full agreement that this is indeed a complex problem begging for sensible solutions, but those solutions must grow out of a balanced debate.

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