Everywhere I’ve done youth ministry I’ve met undocumented students. (Chicago, Northern California, Suburban Detroit, and here in City Heights)
But it wasn’t until I started doing youth ministry here in City Heights that I truly started to understand the difficulty they had in furthering their education and starting their own American Dream.
Think of the uphill battle a student in our neighborhood climbs towards adulthood. Their parents brought them here when they were very young. They were put into an elementary school where they didn’t speak the language. But they’ve overcome obstacles beyond language. A lack of health care, parents with unstable jobs, parents who struggled with the stress of starting a new life in a new culture, (the divorce rate is high) rough schools, the temptation of gangs, the reality of substance abuse, the allure of teenage pregnancy, few meaningful extra-curricular activities, on and on.
And despite everything– these students have succeeded by every measurement tool. tudents with high GPAs, excellent standardized test scores, held offices in their class, been star athletes… the top of their class.
Born in quick sand sucking them towards a failure no one would blame them for. They have struggled, clawed, and fought their way through high school. They are living proof that hard work pays off.
But, as it stands now, the American Dream ends there for all but a few.
As they reach graduation, a waypoint on their way to what they can become, they are faced with a new struggle they might not be able to overcome: Their immigration status prevents them from many academic/financial aid opportunities they would otherwise qualify for. Likewise, their immigration status prevents them from another viable option towards a career in the military.
To put that in perspective in my neighborhood: Future community leaders hit a roadblock towards education and military service and are left with few options towards a bright future.
What does this have to do with youth ministry?
The young adults in that video could just as easily be students in our youth group. And, in all reality, there’s a very good chance that there are students in your group facing the exact same problem. Our ministry isn’t just about preaching Good News, it’s about bringing good news to the neighborhood. See, this has everything to do with youth ministry here in San Diego and around the country!
That’s where the DREAM Act comes in. Without going into a comprehensive immigration reform and all of its political pitfalls, it helps bridge a gap immediately that most people agree needs to get fixed.
The purpose of the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act, also called the DREAM Act, is to help those individuals who meet certain requirements, have an opportunity to enlist in the military or go to college and have a path to citizenship which they otherwise would not have without this legislation. Supporters of the DREAM Act believe it is vital not only to the people who would benefit from it, but also the United States as a whole. It would give an opportunity to undocumented immigrant students who have been living in the U.S. since they were young, a chance to contribute back to the country that has given so much to them and a chance to utilize their hard earned education and talents.
Would I qualify?
The following is a list of specific requirements one would need in order to qualify for the current version of the DREAM Act.
- Must have entered the United States before the age of 16 (i.e. 15 and younger)
- Must have been present in the United States for at least five (5) consecutive years prior to enactment of the bill
- Must have graduated from a United States high school, or have obtained a GED, or have been accepted into an institution of higher education (i.e. college/university)
- Must be between the ages of 12 and 35 at the time of application
- Must have good moral character
For nearly 10 years the Dream Act has taken on many forms as it’s proponents have tried to get the law to pass through both the House and Senate. It has stalled or was killed every time.
On December 8th, the bill was passed by the House of Representative. It was hoped that the debate in the Senate would begin immediately. Unfortunately, the Senate tabled a vote on the measure yesterday.
Obviously, this is labeled a political issue.
But in my world this is a social justice issue. These students have done everything right and the only country they’ve ever known prohibits them from pursuing their dreams. They have looked adversity in the eye and climbed past it’s sneering, snarling teeth and overcome everything to become the embodiment of success our country adores.
It’s time that this legislation passes and they are allowed to move on.
Dream Act Portal (student activist site)