Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A DREAM for my Undocumented Students

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
Leviticus 19:33-34

Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
James 5:4

Let America be America, where equality is in the air we breathe.
Langston Hughes

It's that time of year again in Southern California. Lakers in the NBA Finals, June gloom and finally...high school graduation. We know we'll see some clutch performances from Kobe over the next couple of weeks and eventually the sun will come out, but some of my graduating seniors will not get the opportunity to go to college and pursue their dreams: they are children of undocumented immigrant workers. They've worked hard to learn English and earn their diploma, but many do not have a chance to continue.

One of my students, Dennis, earned an "A" in my Economics course first semester and currently has an "A" in American Government. He attends class every day, participates in discussions, turns in all of his homework, asks curious questions about difficult concepts and wants to go to college. The only problem is he was born in the "wrong country" (Peru) and then came to the US illegally with his mother a decade ago. They came for work and family. In California, fortunately, the AB 540 law allows undocumented students like Dennis to go to any CA Community College, Cal-State or UC and pay in-state tuition. But Dennis doesn't have the money and it is extremely difficult for him to find work because of his immigration status, not to mention that it is unlawful for him to get a driver's license.

The US Congress currently has a bill called the DREAM Act that would give students like Dennis an opportunity to receive immediate legal residency and allow him to fulfill his dreams even after he does, despite the odds(!), earn a college degree. If DREAM became a law, all undocumented students who came to the US before they were 16, who have been in the country for at least 5 years and who graduated from high school would be eligible for conditional legal residency and, after 6 years, would be allowed to apply for permanent legal residency if they completed at least 2 years of college or service in the military. Under the DREAM Act, Dennis could apply for jobs, student loans and work study programs, but not the federally subsidized Pell Grant.

Of course, this is an election year and comprehensive immigration reform is a tremendously sensitive issue that many politicians do not have the courage to support. In the West, immigration continues to be a volatile issue. One OC Congressman recently blasted Santa Ana College for sponsoring a scholarship fund for illegal immigrants even though not one dime would come from the pockets of taxpayers. President Obama, in an obvious attempt to soothe conservative outrage over the issue, ordered 1,200 National Guard troops to be sent to the border, while police chiefs met with Attorney General Eric Holder to work quickly to repeal the controversial Arizona law. And two weeks ago, 5 students got arrested for an act of civil disobedience with a "sit-in" at John McCain's headquarters in Tucson, calling for his support of DREAM.

Where does the DREAM Act stand in the House of Representatives? What kind of chance does it have to pass? Here is the current score:

212 support the bill
107 oppose the bill
216 others

Unfortunately, the US Congressman (CA-42) who represents Capistrano Valley HS (and Dennis) is Gary Miller who recently proclaimed: "Illegal immigrants should have to return to their countries of origin before being considered for citizenship." That's bad news for Dennis and all my other undocumented students. Political leaders, like Miller, who embrace an "enforcement only" policy of building higher walls, sending more money and troops to the border and ejecting all the "illegals" are neither loving nor practical. We need more humanitarian laws that secure the border and deal with the root of the issue (unjust economic systems) while breathing hope into students like Dennis who are pursuing education and will make our country better as a result.

How can we tangibly help fulfill DREAMs for Dennis and the 65,000 undocumented students who will graduate from high school this year?

1. Do some research to find out if you US Congress Representative is supporting DREAM.

2. Call or Email your US Rep and Senators to advocate for Dennis.

3. Donate $$$ for a private scholarship to help Dennis and a 2009 CVHS graduate, Aida, go to Saddleback College (friends and family helped Aida complete her freshman year at Saddleback with a 3.5 GPA this year!): send checks to 516 Quail MDWS, Irvine, CA, 92603 (make it out to me and I'll combine the funds into a scholarship check for each student).

4. Commit to praying for the DREAM Act and the future of these children of illegal immigrants. Advocate for these children in your faith community and explain why it is a spiritual issue:

Those of us who pledge allegiance to the inaugurated reign of God in Christ are committed to the erasure of diverse identities formed by political borders, gender and socio-economic classes (Galatians 3:28; Col 3:11): we are all one in Christ Jesus. We are also scripted into the tradition of 'Moses and the Prophets' which calls us to love and care for the stranger and alien in our country. After all, as Luke's Gospel reminds us, if we don't follow Moses and the prophets with obvious admonitions like this, we won't really believe Someone if they rise from the dead (Luke 16:19-31). We radical disciples have been trained to see the face of Jesus in 'the least of these' (Matthew 25:31-46).

Like our Master, we Christians are lobbyists for the least of these. We owe it to our Latino neighbors (legal or undocumented), who do the dishes, mow our lawns (James 5:4), harvest our fruit and like Dennis, educate themselves in a complex world, to acknowledge their contributions to the US and advocate for them.

--Theological Autopilot

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