WASHINGTON – Faith leaders and supporters of the DREAM Act participated in a "Jericho march" around the U.S. Senate building on Tuesday in hopes that opponents to the bill will fall in favor of the immigration reform.
A coalition of interfaith leaders converged in Washington, D.C., for an emergency prayer summit and a "Jericho march" aimed at Senators poised to vote on the DREAM legislation before the Christmas break.
"The churches are united from Pentecostals to Evangelicals, Catholics, [and] mainline Protestants … this is a clear biblical issue, a moral issue," said Jim Wallis, an evangelical author and founder of social policy group Sojourners.
The coalition of Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders are on an urgent mission to press for the passage of the act in the last days of the lame duck session.
The DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act allows undocumented immigrants up to age 30 to be eligible for conditional non-immigrant status, allowing recipients to temporarily stay in the U.S. legally if they have been living in the U.S. continuously for at least five years, and were brought to the country before they were 16.
They also must earn a high school diploma or GED and college/military acceptance. Dream recipients would then be able to gain permanent resident status and apply for citizenship after 10 years or two years of military service.
The legislation has already been passed in the U.S. House Representatives by a 216-198 vote. However, the win was a narrow one.
Prior to the floor vote, the House was engulfed in spirited debate on both sides of the aisle about bill provisions. Rep. Steve King (R-IA), a ranking member of the House Immigration Subcommittee, argued forcefully that the act is an amnesty bill that would allow beneficiaries to sponsor their family members upon reaching the age of 21.
Fellow Republican Rep. Lamar Smith (Texas) asserted that the legislation would grant work authorization for illegal aliens at a time when the unemployment rate currently stands at nearly 10 percent.
Republicans promise to make passage in the Senate tough as well. Senators anticipate an attempt to block the issue from a vote.
Rosa Alvarez of United We DREAM said that Republicans are playing party politics with an important issue.
"For a lot of our Senators right now it is a political game more than about doing the correct thing which would be helping the students and the country as a whole," she expressed.
DREAM supporters believe that passing the bill will enable young immigrant workers to use their degrees to pull themselves out of poverty and off government entitlements. They also believe that the country will benefit from the taxes state and federal governments will collect from their higher incomes.
"This is good and right and smart," said Wallis. "They want to be citizens and they are some of the best [residents]."
Alvarez is an undocumented immigrant who wants to become a citizen. She came to America at age 9 and grew up in Wisconsin. A year and half ago, she graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a Bachelor's degree in education.
If the DREAM passes, Alvarez says she will be able to use the degree.
"That is the main reason that I am involved because I believe there are many students like me who deserve a chance to serve their country the way that they want to," she stated.
A hundred other young adults just like her gathered donations, borrowed frequent flyer miles, and caravanned several miles to share their stories and advocate their cause. During the prayer summit and walk on Tuesday, many of the youths wore their graduation caps.
Faith leaders started the summit at the United Methodist Building with an initial prayer at 11:30 a.m. The prayer summit was followed by a silent procession around the Senate office buildings at noon.
"We walked and prayed and gathered around the kids and laid our hands on them and prayed for them and prayed that there would be a conversion among Senators," described Wallis.
If the DREAM Act is passed in the Senate and approved by President Barack Obama, the bill would affect nearly 2 million undocumented students. There is no word yet when the Senate will hear the bill.