Love a DREAMer As Yourself

by Rebecca Hall

Children are good motivation.  Almost every social or political issue can be traced back to a need to create a better future "for the children."  Environmental degradation.  The national debt.  Health care. Poverty. Many organizations (including ESA) use images of smiling boys and girls  to inspire compassion, empathy, and solidarity.  However, as strong as this value of youth is within our country, there is one group of children that inspires a hate and prejudice in the minds of many Americans—the children of undocumented immigrants.

Somehow, children who would otherwise be hailed as the future and hope of our country are seen as dangerous simply because their parents lack a simple piece of paper.  The term "anchor baby" came into vogue last year after the passage of Arizona's SB1070 as a weird, rather mixed metaphor which tries to equate a small, helpless infant with 50 pounds of hard metal.  Politicians and pundits have been vocal about their opposition to showing any sort of leniency to the hardened criminals (read: pregnant mothers) who deliver them.  Last year, Representative Steve King of Iowa introduced a bill that would deny citizenship to children born to undocumented immigrant parents living in the United States.  Proponents of his law argued that instead of having children because of love and a desire to build a family, undocumented women were giving birth as part of a sinister plot to secure government services and citizenship for themselves and their families.  Never mind that under the current law any US citizen has to be of age in order to sponsor family members; hence families would have to wait around two decades for these plans to come into fruition, twice as long as they would have to wait to apply for a visa following deportation.

Earlier this month the Applied Research Center released a study estimating that around 5,000 children across the country are in government custody because their parents were arrested for deportation proceedings or have already been deported.  They also note that over 46,000 of those deported this year had at least one child who was a US citizen.  Many of them were not allowed contact or communication with their children during their detention.  Once deported, it can be a long process before being reunited in their native countries with their children.  Considering the pride that the Obama administration takes in championing family issues, especially in encouraging fatherhood, it seems to have felt little compunction in tearing away these children from their fathers and mothers.

Of course, not all children of undocumented immigrants are US citizens.  Others traveled with their parents to this country, sometimes at a very young age.  Their citizenship may lie elsewhere, but this country may be all that they can remember.  They have been educated in US high schools, but lack the documentation to go to college, not to mention the money (keep in mind that they are ineligible to receive federal financial aid).  And the better jobs will require them to show papers.  As with their parents, they are liable to be deported at any moment.  Despite all their potential, they are destined to lives of relative poverty and fear.

This is what prompted introduction of the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act, legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented resident students who either enroll in college or join the military, and also meet a variety of other requirements.  The bill would make limited federal financial aid available to those who choose to pursue higher education.  There would be no free ride for these students to citizenship, education, or employment, but there would be opportunity.  The bill has been introduced several times, including once last year, but has never been passed at the national level.  States are now taking action.  In September California passed its own version of the DREAM Act, giving undocumented students access to state financial aid.  Even with these efforts, there is still much to be done in order to ensure that no child is denied a future due to the way their parents immigrated.  This should be the work not only of politicians and activists, but also of the church.

We know that Jesus loved children, even commanded us to be like them in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Luke 18:17).  Perhaps less known are the commandments to love not only our neighbor, but also the stranger in our midst: "The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born.  Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt.  I am the LORD your God" (Lev. 19:34).

Many different opportunities exist to love the alien as ourselves, as individuals and as the church.  Organizations such as DREAMActivist are looking for volunteers willing to help spread the word, whether by educating friends or contacting elected officials.  ESA will be doing its own part to educate and empower the church on this issue by news updates, resources, and policy suggestions.  There are a myriad of ways for churches to reach out to immigrants within their own communities, and we encourage you to do so.  And there is always prayer.  Pray that no more families are torn apart, pray that a just and compassionate solution is found to this complicated and controversial issue, and pray that love and justice prevail instead of hate, apathy, and exclusion.

What would our churches and this country look like today if, as the people of God, we dared to love the children of aliens and strangers as much as we loved our own?  What would our churches and this country look like if we persuaded policymakers to enhance the lives of immigrant children by passing legislation such as the DREAM Act?  It would be wonderful to find out, and may the Spirit of Christ lead and empower us to help it become a reality.

Rebecca Hall is a Sider Scholar and Masters of Divinity student at Palmer Theological Seminary. She recently spent several months volunteering at a shelter for abused women and children in Tijuana, Mexico.

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