Members of Congress are again seeking to enable undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children to earn permanent legal status and, ultimately, citizenship by meeting certain requirements.
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., introduced the Dream Act Feb. 4, with Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina as the lead Republican sponsor. Durbin first introduced the proposal 20 years ago, but it has never received approval from both the Senate and House of Representatives in the same session.
Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore expressed his gratitude to Durbin and Graham for reintroducing the bill.
Dreamers – the label for people in this category of undocumented immigrants – “are not an abstraction,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). “They are people created in the image of God, who were brought here as children by their parents.
“Those who have lived as good neighbors and contributed so greatly to our country should be protected from the constant threat of having their lives upended,” he said in a release from the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition that attempts to address immigration policy from a biblical worldview.
“Most Americans agree on this question, which is quite a feat in times as divided as these. Congress should move immediately to protect our Dreamer neighbors.”
The ERLC has supported for several years a permanent, legislative solution for this category of undocumented immigrants.
Twice in the last decade, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting have approved resolutions on immigration reform that called for securing the border and establishing “a just and compassionate path to legal status,” with restitutionary measures, for undocumented immigrants already in the United States.
On his first day in office, President Joe Biden issued a memorandum Jan. 20 that called for maintaining and strengthening an Obama-era program that protected qualified, undocumented immigrants brought into this country as children. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program kept those who arrived in this country before their 16th birthday from being deported.
The Trump administration rescinded DACA, but the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the action last year, ruling the action was “arbitrary and capricious.” The high court said in June the administration may revoke DACA but the manner it did so in 2017 failed the procedural requirements of federal law.
The significance of a permanent resolution to the issue may be demonstrated soon in federal court in Texas. A ruling is expected soon in a challenge by Texas and eight other states to DACA, according to a report Feb. 10 by Politico.
Nearly three-fourths of Americans support granting legal status to undocumented immigrants brought across the border as children, according to a June 2020 survey by the Pew Research Center. The poll showed 74% of Americans favor granting legal status, while 24% oppose it. By political party, 91% of Democrats and 54% of Republicans are in favor.
In introducing the legislation, Durbin said he will “continue fighting until it becomes the law of the land. This is a matter of simple American fairness and justice.”
Graham said he doubted the proposal would become law “as a stand-alone measure.” Instead, he thinks the bill will be “a starting point for us to find bipartisan breakthroughs” to provide aid to Dreamers and repair “a broken immigration system,” Graham said.
The measure, Durbin said, would permit undocumented immigrants brought to this country as minors to gain legal status and eventually citizenship if they:
- Achieve a certain level of education, work lawfully for a minimum of three years or serve in the U.S. military;
- Pass background checks and have not committed a felony or other serious crime;
- Show an ability to speak English and a familiarity with American history;
- Pay an application fee.
In 2001, Durbin proposed the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. As a result, those covered by the proposal have since been known as Dreamers.
After more than a decade of congressional failures, President Barack Obama issued an executive order establishing DACA in 2012. The program provided a two-year window of protection from deportation and made participants eligible for permission to work and other benefits. About 700,000 people participated in the program.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)