One day children were brought to Jesus in the hope that he would lay hands on them and pray over them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus intervened: "Let the children alone; don't prevent them from coming to me. God's kingdom is made up of people like these." After laying hands on them, he left. (Matthew 19:13-15)
Guided by the words of Jesus who claimed children as full members of the family of God and responding to the actions of the General Synod, the United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries strongly urges members of the UCC to encourage their Senators to vote for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors – known as the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act will benefit children who are undocumented who have been raised in U.S. communities and attended U.S. public schools and know the U.S. as home. Action and prayer is needed at this crucial time. After praying on the grounds of the Capitol on Tuesday with DREAM students and faith leaders, Mari Castellanos wrote, “I hope all those prayers and all those amazingly courageous youngsters touch the heart of the Senators.”
Except for our indigenous brothers and sisters, we in the United States are all descended from immigrants, whether voluntary or involuntary. Caught once again in an era of intolerance, how quickly we forget that welcoming the stranger has been a blessing for us all. The education of immigrant children is not only a smart investment; as an expression of the call to love our neighbors as ourselves, it is also a moral imperative. The issues of immigration and immigration enforcement affect the children in immigrant families and the public schools that serve those children.
Every year 65,000 young people graduate from high school and have nowhere to go. Unlike other students, these graduates cannot get a job, join the military, or qualify for in state tuition. These are young men and women who were brought to the United States as undocumented children. Many of them have no recollection of any other country than the one they grew up in. These are kids who persevered, staying in school sometimes against great odds and managed to obtain a diploma. These young people include high school valedictorians, honor students, musicians, athletes, and artists.
The DREAM Act is the proposed law that, if passed, would grant these students the right to qualify for legal residency and eventual citizenship, military service, employment, and eventual in-state college tuition and college scholarships. Currently these young people have no legally established path to a bright future. A large majority of the adolescents who would be assisted by passage of the DREAM Act have lived in the United States since they were young children. They have grown up here; in many cases they have no familiarity with another country to which they could return. By providing them a path to education and employment we will all benefit.
The United Church of Christ has historically supported legislation that welcomes immigrants and refugees and supports creating a path to legalization for those who are undocumented.
In 2007, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ adopted a resolution, entitled “A Call for a More Humane U.S. Immigration Policy; End Migrant Deaths; Support Immigrant Communities.” Recognizing that “approximately ten to twelve million undocumented workers and their families currently living in the United States are pressured to live covertly, without rights, and in vulnerable situations all over the United States.” The impact on children in such families has been severe.
General Synod XIII of the United Church of Christ (1981) adopted a Pronouncement on Immigration calling upon all settings of the church to advocate for the rights of immigrants and “aid undocumented immigrants in attaining legal status.”
In its 1982 ruling, Plyler vs. Doe, the Supreme Court prohibited public schools from denying immigrant students access to a public education. The Court stated that undocumented children have the same right to a free public education as U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Undocumented students are obligated, as are all other students, to attend school until they reach the age mandated by state law.
May God continue to guide our prayers and actions and prayer in the pursuit of justice for all children and their families, today especially for children of immigrant families who are caught in a predicament which is not of their making.