ELCA
Policy Position Paper

Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act of 2003


Position:

The ELCA supports S. 1545, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act of 2003. 

Reasons for position:

         This bipartisan legislation will:

§         Remove huge financial barriers that currently prevent undocumented students living in the United States from attending college by restoring states’ rights to freely determine residency for in-state tuition.  

§         Allow children who came to the United States before they were sixteen years old and were living in the U.S. at least five years before the date of enactment to qualify for legalization without fear of deportation if they were graduated from high school or obtained a GED in this country. 

ELCA Policy Base:

(All policy positions taken by the ELCA are based on the Social Statements previously passed by the voting members of the Churchwide Assembly or other governing documents of the ELCA.)

 

The “Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity, and Culture” social statement (adopted by more than two-thirds majority vote in 1993) states:   

 

§         “This church will support legislation, ordinances, and resolutions that guarantee to all persons equally . . . access to quality education.”  

 

The “Immigration” message (adopted by the Church Council of the ELCA in 1998) states:

 

§         “The existence of a permanent sub-group of people who live without recourse to effective legal protection opens the door for the massive abuse and exploitation and harms the common good.  We urge leaders and citizens to seek feasible responses to this situation that offer flexible and humane ways for undocumented persons who have been in this country for a specified amount of time to be able to adjust their legal status.” 

           

The “Sufficient, Sustainable Livelihood for All” social statement (adopted by more than two-thirds majority in 1999) calls for:

§         “Addressing the barriers individuals face in preparing for and sustaining a livelihood (such as education).”

§        “Public and private policies that effectively address the causes of poverty.” 

 

Background:

                  Introduced by Senator Orin Hatch (R-UT) and Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) S. 1545 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee (16-3) and currently awaits Senate Action.  S. 1545 will provide individuals who were illegally brought to the United States as young children with the opportunity to attend college and begin the legalization process.  Currently, approximately 65,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools.  Unable to qualify for in-state tuition rates or secure federal financial aid, these young people are often barred from a college education.  They are also unable to begin the process of legalization and, therefore, daily face the possibility of deportation.

 

         S. 1545 addresses both the issue of making postsecondary education accessible to all sectors of the population and facilitating the process of legalization for young people who have been brought to the United States through no choice of their own.  By repealing Section 505 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, states will have the option of offering undocumented immigrants their in-state tuition rate without penalty. 

 

         These hard-working students have much to contribute to the United States.  However, as undocumented immigrants, they are unable to secure employment in the professional or industrial sectors.  Forced to rely on seasonal and underground work to survive, these individuals comprise a permanent underclass.  It is critical not only for the well-being of those in this situation, but also for the U.S. economy that there is an avenue for them to acquire legal status. The second provision of S.1545 provides a process for legalization.  Students who entered the United States before the age of 16 and have resided in the United States for at least five years preceding enactment of the bill will be eligible to adjust their status to that of a legal permanent resident.  This conditional status is good for up to six years.  Permanent residence will be granted if the individual either completes two years of postsecondary education or serves in the U.S. Armed Forces for at least two years.  After permanent status has been granted, the individual can begin to naturalize. 

         Javier Cerda’s story demonstrates the incredible need for this legislation.  Like thousands of other children, Javier was brought to the U.S. by his mother when he was a newborn.  Now twenty-two years old, he has been preparing to graduate from the University of Texas at Brownsville with a degree in computer science.  However, after being pulled over for an expired registration tag, he now faces deportation to Mexico.   While illegal immigration is a serious issue, the children who are brought to the U.S. should not suffer the consequences of their guardians’ decisions.   These bright, hard-working students have a lot to offer the U.S. and should be allowed the opportunity to pursue their academic and professional goals. 

For further information contact: Kay Bengston, e-mail: kay_bengston@elca.org; phone: (202)626-7942

 

 

LOGA Home Page                             ELCA Home                     Division for Church in Society