Religious leaders banned together Tuesday to voice their approval of a congressional bill that would allow undocumented youth to become American citizens.
On what they called a coordinated day of action, liberal Christian leaders and those of Jewish and Islamic faiths called on congressional leaders to pass the DREAM Act during the lame duck session.
The interfaith leaders likened immigrant children to other American children who have assimilated into America’s culture and embraced it as their own.
Virginian Rabbi Jack Moline said of immigrant students of Alexandria’s T.C. Williams High School, “In every other way, they are just like their peers. They study the same textbooks, listen to the same music, cheer for the same teams and they look to the same future.”
According to the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act, undocumented immigrants, age 35 and under, would be assured legal status after completing college or serving in the military for two years provided they have lived in the country since before the age of 16 and passed a background check.
The bill has the support of military leaders and some of the nation’s leaders in education. However, it was voted down in September when the proposal was introduced as an amendment to a defense appropriations bill. It was soundly rejected by Republican senators, not a single one of which voted for the measure.
Now, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority leader Harry Reid have promised to present it again as a stand alone bill during the lame duck session. Pelosi originally scheduled it to be brought to the House floor Monday but postponed it.
Ala Makahal, an undocumented worker who grew up in America since the age of seven, said if DREAM had been in place, she would be an American citizen with a high paying architecture job. Instead, she is a college graduate who is working in the food service industry.
“I tried to get in line to get my number and my papers. But for my case, there is no line,” she said.
Makahal, who emigrated from Jordan with her parents, explained that she does not fit any of the traditional categories that would make her eligible for a visa while remaining in the United States.
“I don’t qualify for asylum, I’m not married, I don’t have a children,” she stated.
Her only hope is to leave the country. But Makahal doesn’t even remember Palestine, let alone know people there.
Her condition is no worse than that of Ohio resident Bernard Pastor. The 18-year-old has been locked up in a federal detention center, facing the possibility of being sent to Guatemala after residing in America for 15 years.
“He finished fifth in his graduating class last year; he was the star soccer player for Reading High School; he literally sang the national anthem to all of their soccer games with his teammates; he’s minister and worship leader in his father’s church,” detailed the Rev. Troy Jackson of University Christian Church in Cincinnati.
He says cases such as those of Makahal and Pastor uncover the true nature of the current immigration policy.
“It’s unjust, it’s unfair, it’s not the love that God teaches,” asserted Jackson.
Still, many faith leaders and conservatives are against amnesty programs that allow illegal residents to become permanent without any penalties.
But Makahal insists the bill will not legislate amnesty, but create a pathway for citizenship for undocumented teens. “The DREAM act is not amnesty. It provides a path where there is no path. It draws a line, where there is no line,” she clarified.
The leaders shared their views in a teleconference held by the organization Faith in Public Life. FPL was launched in 2006 with the purpose of brokering new faith partnerships and amplifying the voices of emerging religious leaders.
FPL is rallying additional faith support for the DREAM Act and future immigration reform.