“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”
-Inscription on the Statue of Liberty
Immigrants were the founders of our great nation, which was established on the values of democracy, civil liberties, and freedom. Our country has long been a haven for people who come here from impoverished and war torn nations. Our faith traditions call us to engage in justice on behalf of those on the margins. This includes those who are “the least of these,” those who have come to this country in hopes of a brighter future and with ambition to have a piece of the American dream.
The DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education of Alien Minors) Act could have another chance in the House of Representatives this week. The Act would allow children who have been brought to the U.S. illegally through no choice of their own to be given a future. The Act would enable these children to earn an education, obtain a job, become tax-paying citizens, and become active members of society.
The pathway to citizenship via the DREAM Act is subject to the following qualifications:
- must have entered the U.S. before the age of 16
- must have lived in the country for at least five years prior to the enactment of the bill
- must have graduated from a U.S. high school, earn a GED, or have been accepted into a U.S. college/university
- must be between the ages of 12 and 35 at the time of application
- must have good moral character
After completing two years of college or serving in the U.S. military, conditional status would be lifted. Ensuring that these children have the ability to gain an education and, in turn, earn a living, pay taxes, and become active members of society is essential to fixing our broken immigration system.
Opponents of the DREAM Act are attacking the legislation because they argue that it grants amnesty to undocumented immigrants. This is not true. Those who stand to benefit from the Act are not receiving amnesty but, instead, must meet specific qualifications.
Opponents also argue that criminals can apply and benefit from the Act. This is also false. The “good moral character” qualification ensures that those who have committed a serious crime are not eligible to apply. An applicant must demonstrate that he is not inadmissible and is not deportable under the federal Immigration and Nationality Act.
Arguments also include that taxpayers’ money will go toward paying for the education of immigrants who qualify. Again, false. Those who qualify will be eligible to receive federal loans that must be paid back and will be eligible to participate in federal work-study programs in which they must work for any benefit they receive. They will not be eligible to receive federal grants, such as PELL grants.
What you may be surprised to know is that there is one argument on which opponents and proponents of the legislation agree: securing our nation’s border and the enforcement of immigration laws by the federal government is essential.
It is time for our federal government to stand up and fix the broken immigration system instead of relying on local and state elected officials to make decisions for them.
It is also time for people to stop spreading information that is not factual and using scare tactics to confuse and frighten the public.
A recent email that I received warned that those in support of the DREAM Act have stated that they may resort to civil disobedience in order to stand their ground on the issue. Civil disobedience has been utilized throughout the world to bring attention to racism and inequalities. Civil disobedience is not a “threat,” as stated in the scare email. Instead, the real threat we are faced with is the conglomeration of legislation that has been offered in the Commonwealth of Virginia and throughout our nation that directly infringes upon the rights of immigrants and fosters racial profiling.
This type of legislation is not only a threat to the civil liberties of immigrants, but to us all. We must be committed to ensuring that we do not allow those who do not support the justice of immigrants to push us into the shadows as they have done to immigrants throughout the country.
We must use our voices to speak for the 30,000 children in the Commonwealth eligible to benefit from the DREAM Act who are without a voice.
The DREAM Act is expected to be voted on in the U.S. Congress as early as this week and it is essential that you urge your Congressmen to vote in support of the legislation.