The time is now in Catholic America to pass the Dream Act. Many in Washington are trying to make political hay during the lame-duck session of Congress, however, Catholic support for this immigration reform is about ethics and morality, not partisan politics. The Bible tells us that in God’s Kingdom to come “the sins of the father should not be visited upon the children” (Ezekiel 18:20). It is in the spirit of Jesus that Catholics apply the scripture towards solving a contemporary social problem. It makes sense, economically and politically too.
Supporters of the Federal DREAM Act participate in a candle-light procession and vigil in downtown Los Angeles Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2010.
For those who might not know, the Dream Act is focused on children who entered the US when under the age of 18 and thus were not responsible before the law for the civil violation of how their family might have overstayed a visa, or falsified identification papers. The pending legislation allows these young people without proper papers to apply for legal status and eventual citizenship if they serve in the military or secure significant college education. The bill is not “amnesty,” since that term refers to absolving a criminal: these young people did not commit any crime – they were underage – and ought not be penalized for what their parent(s) may have done.
The legislation is good for taxpayers. It means that the government will not have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in tracking down such persons, holding them in detention centers or paying with tax money to send them back to a country of origin. Since the majority of these young people were raised in the US from early childhood, they would be “fish out of water” in countries they left long ago and probably would find themselves branded as “outsiders” because of their culture, American accent in the foreign language and loyalty to the United States of America.
The purpose of US immigration law is to filter out undesirables and select immigrants who will make positive contributions to the economy and society. The Dream Act fulfills this purpose without the cost of bureaucratic overkill. We know already that these persons are not criminals: they have either risked their lives in defense of the country or have sought education to prepare themselves for productive roles in society and, in some cases, both the military and education are part of their profiles. It makes little sense to spend additional funds – which the country does not have to spare – when common sense provides us with an immigration pool of proven worth.
The Catholic bishops of the USCCB have spoken forcefully on this legislation and lobbied repeatedly for its passage. Moreover, papal teaching on this kind of modern legislative issue was clearly addressed by Pope Paul VI in his Motu Proprio on the Pastoral Care of Migrants. Family values, the importance of placing the needs of real human beings before narrow political interests, a pro-life attitude towards immigration and the Church’s preferential option for poor are all brought to bear in the USCCB’s teachings about the ordinary Magisterium in our day.
Opponents of the Dream Act often expose themselves as enemies of Catholicism in voicing their rejection of this measure. I have seen snide accusations that the bishops favor immigration reform because it will increase the number of Catholic by allowing more Hispanics into the country. This line of thinking cheapens our faith and commitment to social justice by supposing that the Catholic Church is some sort of merchant who needs new customers. Moreover, you can turn the argument around by suggesting (I won’t!) that those who oppose the reform want to preserve the tenuous Protestant majority in the US by attacking Hispanics already in this country.
I think we need a major effort by the USCCB new president, Archbishop Dolan to use his considerable persuasive talents right away on behalf of Latinos and Latinas. In the long run, we need to educate ourselves about the moral clarity this measure imposes upon the nation’s muddled immigration laws. Finally, we need to silence the Cafeteria Catholics on the right-wing like Deal Hudson whose worldly purpose is to sully our Catholic faith by opposing the Dream Act.