By Linda Unger
Tampa, Florida, May 4, 2012—The United Methodist Church approved this week a resolution urging the US Congress to adopt the DREAM Act, which would create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrant youth who attend college or serve in the military.
Meeting in Tampa, the church’s legislative body called on Congress to “adopt the DREAM Act and provide for these children, who have lived most [of] their lives in this country, access to educational opportunities and full participation in the life of the only nation they have known, and identify with, the US.”
Currently, unless the state in which they reside has passed a law stating otherwise, undocumented immigrant students pay prohibitively high rates, like those paid by foreign students, to attend college in the US. Since 2001, only 11 states have passed laws allowing these students to qualify for in-state tuition at public institutions.
DREAM is an acronym for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act.
Serving at the local church level, Francisco Canas, executive director of The United Methodist Church’s National Plan for Hispanic and Latino Ministries, says he meets many young people in this situation.
“These children grow up without knowing their immigration status,” he said. “They work so hard to get academic degrees, only at the end to hit a wall that detains them. We have to break through that wall and allow this beautiful, vital generation to pass through.”
The bi-partisan DREAM Act, introduced in the US Congress in 2001, would open the possibility of higher education and a conditional pathway to citizenship for these students, called “DREAMers.” The act would grant conditional lawful permanent residency to undocumented high school graduates or GED recipients.
This temporary status would last six years and enable DREAMers to work lawfully, continue their education, or enter the military. During this period, they would have to either complete two years in a program for a bachelor’s or more advanced degree or serve in the uniformed services for at least two years and, if discharged, receive an honorable discharge in order to become eligible to apply for citizenship.
“We have a lot of first-generation immigrants who are enriching significantly the life and mission of the church,” said Canas. “It is time for us to raise our voice as a church, as The United Methodist Church, a religious institution that proclaims constantly our inclusiveness.”
He said the resolution passed this week by the church’s 2012 General Conference, “will motivate us to continue fighting for the DREAM Act,” which Congress has turned down several times. It is, he said, “a drop of water that is helping us to fill the empty glass.”
“It’s a matter of justice,” Canas underscored. “We as church, lifting a prophetic voice, can make justice prevail.”
Linda Unger is staff editor and senior writer for the United Methodist Committee on Relief.