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,
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?