DREAMers Add Powerful Voice to Interfaith Immigration Fight
Posted by Daniel Rosenberg on Wed, Jun 19, 2013 at 15:21 pm
Photo courtesy of Immigration Equality / Judy G. Rolfe
Yesterday, June 18, the Interfaith Immigration Coalition (IIC) organized a fly-in advocacy day in Washington, DC. Faith leaders from around the country convened to lobby for fair, commonsense, effective, and comprehensive immigration reform. Leaders in the Christian and Jewish communities articulated to members of the House of Representatives and the Senate the importance of welcoming the stranger and including the moral treatment of all immigrants in policy. “DREAMers” shared their personal experiences as they argued for a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the country.
DREAMers derive their name from the Development Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act. They are undocumented immigrants aged 15 – 30 who were brought to the United States as children. The DREAM Act, if enacted, would make them eligible for a path to citizenship if they meet various criteria, including requirements regarding education or military service. Under the bill, if an individual qualifies for the DREAM program, then he/she would gain conditional residency and could apply for citizenship after six years. There are an estimated 1.35 million undocumented children in this country under the age of 18; 1.6 million between the ages of 18 and 21.
The IIC fly-in day helped me better understand the lobbying process and the Senate’s immigration bill, S. 744. The most valuable lesson I took from the day, however, was realizing the power of first-hand experiences and the importance of engaging with people who are directly affected by a particular policy. It is imperative that legislators consider the humanitarian aspects of policies before they are enacted.
When I sat in on a meeting with a team of DREAM activists, faith leaders, and NGO policy experts, the stories of the DREAM activists had a profound impact on everyone. Their stories resonated with me too, providing a small glimpse into the incredibly complex situations that many undocumented immigrants must navigate. Many DREAMers came to America at very young ages with their parents, some of whom could not provide for their families in their countries of origin. Since DREAMers have been living in the United States for such a long time, many of them speak English fluently and are immersed in American culture. However, as a result of their undocumented status, many cannot pursue a college degree after graduating high school, making it more difficult for them to contribute their talents to American society.
DREAMers’ stories are among the clearest reminders of why millions of Americans are fighting so hard for fair treatment of undocumented immigrants. Such stories and struggles put a face to the issues and policies in S. 744 that now are being debated in the House of Representatives as immigration reform legislation is considered. Unfortunately, these stories often are forgotten between the speeches and deliberations of Congress. Hearing these stories can be a very humbling experience and, for me, they serve as a reminder that despite living with many crippling circumstances, individuals are capable of extraordinary achievements and unwavering determination to keep moving forward.