Why Support the DREAM Act by Jerry Campbell

President Jerry Campbell

President of Claremont School of Theology, Rev. Dr. Jerry D. Campbell is an ordained Elder of The United Methodist Church who has a long career in the administration in theological schools and higher education. He has served as head librarian for both University of Southern California and Duke University, as well as Perkins School of Theology and The Iliff School of Theology in Denver. Campbell has served on accreditation review teams for the Association of Theological Schools, and serves as a commissioner of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). Campbell has published nearly 40 articles and book chapters and has given over 70 invited addresses on educational, administrative and theological topics.  This post was originally published on Campbell’s blog, President’s Pen.

Unless you are Native American or African American, you or one or more of your ancestors most likely arrived in America by immigrating here from some other part of the world. The move here may have been motivated by a need to escape conflict, perhaps by the hope for a better chance to achieve economic prosperity, or maybe just to enjoy the increasing reputation of the land of freedom and opportunity. Immigration takes place for many reasons, but it usually represents an effort to improve the quality of one’s life.

Sometimes those in the past who immigrated to what is now the United States of America did so by permission of the existing residents, and sometimes they came without permission. The earliest European immigrants came without permission from the native residents because the country (or known parts of it) had been “claimed” by some foreign imperial power, Great Britain being the most notable. Those early immigrants overwhelmed the native residents and stayed by virtue of superior weaponry. Eventually the descendants of the earliest East Coast immigrants revolted against Great Britain and declared themselves the owners and governors of the land, creating the United States of America in the process. Technically they and their descendants (many of us) became “legal aliens” in this land simply because they were powerful enough to assert it to be so. Eventually they created laws to regulate the arrival of other immigrants who, if they met certain criteria, could come under “legal” circumstances.

It is also clear that most of the earliest immigrants came with a certain degree of desperation to improve their lives. Even when they came from families of some means, they were usually not the firstborn males who stood to inherit wealth and control. Those early immigrants risked everything to make the treacherous trip here hoping that they could improve their lot. We who are their descendants now enjoy the benefits of their risk-taking bravery to endure hardships, to apply themselves often to backbreaking labor, and eventually to create a better future.

Given this “immigrant history” of so many Americans, a terrible irony must be attached to the plight of a group of current day young immigrants called the “DREAMers.” Their parents (derisively referred to as “illegal aliens”) also brought them here in the desperate search for a better life, the same motivation as that of those first “illegal aliens” who came from Europe. Like the earliest European illegal immigrants to America, there was and is no future for them in the countries from which they came. Brought in by their parents, those identified as DREAMers arrived when they were young, some only infants. For most of them, this is the only country they know; English is their first language; and they dream the same dreams for a future in the land of freedom and opportunity as do others of their generation who were born in the USA. The irony is that in spite of our own self-validated claim to “legality,” we—immigrants or the ancestors of immigrants—will not grant them the right to stay “legally.” As a result, their hopes for the future are increasingly desperate, an irony that should not occur or be tolerated by this nation of immigrants.

Unlike the earliest European immigrants, however, the DREAMers do not have the power to make themselves legal. For that to happen, they need our help. Surely enough of us appreciate the pathway leading to our own presence here to provide the political influence to bring about “legality” for these bright, hopeful young men and women. We should help them because in the end they are no different or less deserving than us, or those who came before us.

We should also support them because we have at the heart of our nation of immigrants a document that asserts that all people have certain basic rights. When those early immigrants decided to revolt against Great Britain and establish a government of their own, they created a foundational document we know as the Constitution. It should be a familiar document to all Americans. Its preamble makes a profound and memorable assertion: We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men (today this would read “persons”) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Do we no longer believe this eloquent claim? By our actions toward the DREAMers, we have in essence modified this magnificent statement to read “that all U.S. citizens are created equal….” Our actions deny that such unalienable rights extend to modern day immigrants who have arrived here out of desperation but without permission. Nor has Congress been willing to extend those rights to their children, the DREAMers, who had no culpability in their being brought here. Instead we give them limited or no rights, occasionally detain them, and sometimes deport them. We have to end this terrible irony.

There are, of course, other reasons for us to support them. If you meet some of the DREAMers, it won’t take long to know that you are in the presence of great potential for the future of America. If you will take the opportunity to hear them present their case in person, you will find them to be charming, persuasive, and impressive. You will find their dreams to be commendable; they share the full range of hopes characteristic of their peer group. The Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation estimate that they would make a significant contribution to the tax base over the next decade if given a chance to enter the system. And there is a way for them to enter the system. These young DREAMers have organized a national effort to work for passage of the so-called “Dream Act.” The Dream Act is a bi-partisan piece of legislation designed to create a pathway to citizenship for these young people. One can’t help but marvel at the value of their experience organizing a national effort to gain support; it is clear that they can not only make a significant contribution to the American workforce but also be a powerful source for tomorrow’s political leadership—can be that is if we let them claim their rights. There is hardly a better way to learn than in the cauldron of necessity and in the midst of real world experience.

Whether you stand in a religious tradition, identify as a secular humanist, or claim to be nothing in particular, providing a pathway to citizenship for the DREAMers is also simply the humane thing to do. There are arguments against it, but finally none of them escape the limitations of self-interest. Supporting the Dream Act is the American thing to do; it is the smart thing to do; and it is the humane thing to do. Seldom do we have such a clear right choice. By urging our congressional representatives to support the Dream Act, we can end the tragic irony and extend citizenship to these deserving young immigrants.

  • DonHonda

    Wow! Some much misinformed rhetoric in this article:

    Native Americans were the first immigrants coming over the land bridge from Aleutians and Alaska. This is why they have many Asian characteristics. African Americans are the only ones with a legitimate beef about being abused and used by our political system. Even now, black youth in Oakland cannot get jobs at McDonalds because they don’t speak Spanish. I guess that’s being too Nativist.

    Illegal Aliens and the children they brought over with them Illegally can and do have a current process to become US Citizens. Most “Dreamers” are adult (12-35). When a Nation declares itself a Sovereign entity, organizes itself into a government with rule of law, taxes its citizens to enforce those laws, and for the benefit of its citizens, it has every right who they will choose and by what process they will accept new or Naturalized Citizens. The US is basically a Nation of Legal Immigrants. If we allow the total disregard of our Rule of Law, using Public Monies for the purpose of catering to those who disregard those laws, our society, our way of life, the essence of our country’s founding spirit, they we might as well dissolve our Nation, for then we stand for nothing, and just let the barbarian hordes overtake. I would like anyone to name one nation that has been as tolerate and generous as we Americans. The time is now to draw a line in the sand and say, “No More!” We have been hoodwinked by our politicians and religious leaders for their own selfish gains and mollification of their own sense of guilt at the expense and detriment of the American People.

    We did not ask these Illegal Aliens to come here. We did not ask for them to stay and be second class people. There is a valid and working process to be a Legal worker, Legal student, Legal visitor, Legal resident, etc. in the United States. This process ensures that our country is not besieged by disease, an overly uneducated and unskilled population that compete with our own Working Class. We do need to monitor the numbers to ensure that our Social Services, Education, Safety, Healthcare systems are not overwhelmed. This is not being inhumane, but practical and smart to keep a viable country alive and well. To do otherwise is to slit our own throats and that of our citizens.

    It is possible to have a Heart as well as a Brain. It is possible to not want our Country and its Citizens to fall off the precipice of no return. This is especially true in this current climate of many people suffering from lack of work, loss of income and home and family, THEIR loss of the American Dream. Why are we being asked to put those who will take the bread from our own and our children’s mouths, before our own well-being? Why are emotional and cheap sentimental arguments used instead of hard facts? Why do our leaders continually lie to us?

    • Jax

      “There are arguments against it, but finally none of them escape the limitations of self-interest”

      • DonHonda

        The same argument I would use to the author of this article.

  • http://www.justinthelesser.blogspot.com Justin Garcia

    Wow. Fight rhetoric with rhetoric. I think there are valid points on both sides of the issue. In principle I agree with the Dream Act but this does seem to be a rather inappropriate time in our nation’s economy to pass something like this. I really believed in George W. Bush’s guest worker program he proposed a while back. We really need to appreciate the complexity of illegal immigration and it’s push/pull factors on order for us to find a solution that will benefit American citizens first and yet have additional benefits for our neighbors who work here both legally and illegally. The basic principle behind international trade is that both countries by trading can come away better off than if they only sought to be self-sufficient. I think this kind of thinking rather than “us vs them” thinking will win the day.

    • DonHonda

      I would agree with most of your reasoning. I used specific rhetoric to go against the author’s rhetoric. The problem is that our political and religious leaders have made it an “us vs. them” issue. They want us to show compassion towards Illegal Aliens but forget the multitude of US Citizens and Legal Immigrants who have done the right thing, obeyed our laws, worked hard to get ahead, and are now suffering. A DREAM Act would negate all this and would disrespect those who believe that there is an American Way. Let’s start rewarding our good and law-abiding people, and not reward those who make a mockery of our laws, our way of life.

      • Kitty Li

        I think ( @DonHonda) are confusing the term “illegal immigrant” with the term, illegal. While it is true that they could be illegal doesn’t mean they are doing illegal things all the time let alone making fun of the “American way of life”. We(including me) often confuse this word, and the image that first comes to mind is the image of a Mexican doing drugs and drinking. The truth is, that most of that is false. Yes, that probably is some cases, but there are also others who are working really hard with little pay, working hard in school to get a better future that’s impossible in their home land. People other than Mexican’s can be illegal “aliens” like Indians, Persians, Germans.

  • sara

    Loved this article thank u :)