Materials on The DREAM Act

by Jan Garrett, et al.

December 7, 2011

Opening Words by Dr. Katrina Phelps
Personal Stories from Mayra Hidalgo, Herta Llusho, Juan Gomez, and Gaby Pacheco
The Moral Case for the DREAM Act, by Dr. Jan Garrett


[Today we will talk about the fate] of young people who were brought to this country by their parents, raised in American communities, fully integrated into schools, clubs, volunteer programs and honors societies, but they are at risk. Due to the circumstances in which their parents brought them here, they are undocumented immigrants. Every day these young people risk being locked up in federal detention centers and deported to a country they have never known. The DREAM Act would stop this injustice by giving students who have grown up and graduated from high school in the United States the opportunity to earn legal status through higher education or military service.

Let me provide you with a few of the details lest you think this is a free ticket. Each year, approximately 65,000 high school graduates are prevented from attending college or working legally due to their undocumented immigration status. Our immigration law currently has no mechanism to consider their special circumstances, and even if they leave the U.S. in an effort to enter legally, they are barred from re-entry for up to 10 years since they have been here in an undocumented status. The DREAM Act would correct this inequity by allowing upstanding high school graduates who were brought to the United States as children to obtain a temporary visa so they could attend school, travel, and work legally. After 10 years, they could apply for a green card, and eventually apply for citizenship. To qualify for the temporary visa, students would have to prove they are under 30 years old; were brought to the United States before they were 16; have been here for at least five years; have graduated from High School; and have a criminal-free record and good moral conduct. Then, they would have to complete two years of college, trade school, or military service to… adjust their status to lawful permanent residency and pursue a pathway to citizenship." (DREAM SABBATH TOOLKIT, 16)

Mayra Hidalgo is a DREAM student from Lakeland, Florida. She sent out this message . . . on Thursday, August 18, 2011.

I remember sitting in my guidance counselor's office for my senior conference, nervously fidgeting as I waited for her to return from making copies of my high school transcripts. She returned with the copies, speaking quickly about this university and that deadline, telling me, "Oh, this scholarship would be perfect for you," and finally, "Now for your financial aid form." I froze, realizing the answers to financial aid questions would determine the direction and pace of my future. After much fumbling and talking in circles, I managed to articulate, "I am undocumented" aloud for the first time in my life. An awkward pause ensued, and I felt my entire face go hot as I anxiously waited for her reaction.

"Well, you're illegal and there are no options for you here," she told me. I let the words wash over me, and watched sadly as she closed the manila folder with my name on it and shoved it in the filing cabinet. I wanted nothing more than to leave her office, but it seemed to be forever until I could bring myself to move.

My story, sadly, is all-too-common in the United States. That's why I am asking faith communities across the country to join me this fall in taking part in the DREAM Sabbath campaign. Together, we are advocating for the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented young adults brought to the United States as children who complete two years of college or military service.

(Read the full letter here.)

Herta Llusho came to the United States from Albania when she was 11. She and her mother settled in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. Herta and her mother came to the United States legally. Shortly after arriving, Herta's mother filed an application to stay in the United States.

Herta quickly learned English and became an academic star. She graduated from Grosse Pointe South High School with a 4.05 grade point average. In high school, she was a member of the varsity track team, won an Advanced Placement Scholar Award, and was a member of the National Honor Society.

Herta is currently a junior at the University of Detroit Mercy, where she is an honors student. Herta is studying to be an electrical engineer. She has a grade point average of 3.98 and has completed two internships at engineering companies.

Herta is also very involved in her community, volunteering at homeless shelters, tutoring programs, and her church. One of Herta's friends said: "I am humbled by Herta's willingness and desire to serve. I have had the privilege of going to the same church at which she faithfully serves. She spends hours tutoring kids and volunteering with the junior high Sunday school class. It's a joy to watch so many children run up to her at church because of the love they receive when they are with her."

In 2009, after nine years of legal proceedings, the government placed Herta and her mother in deportation proceedings. Herta said: "I was shocked. My friends are here, my education is here, my community is here. All of a sudden, I was asked to leave behind everything I know and go back to a country I barely know. When I lived there, I was little, so I don't remember it much and I barely speak Albanian anymore." Herta's community rose to her defense. Thousands of people signed an online petition to stop her deportation. Last year, the Department of Homeland Security granted Herta a one year stay of deportation.

Herta came to Capitol Hill to speak at a briefing on the DREAM Act. She said:

I'm a typical story. There's thousands of stories out there just like mine. Please support the DREAM Act so students like me don't have to leave. We are worth it. This is the country we have come to love.
Juan Gomez came to the United States from Colombia in 1990, when he was 2. Juan is an academic star. At Killian Senior High School in Miami, he earned close to two years of college credit with high scores on 13 Advanced Placement exams. He scored a 1410 out of 1600 on the SAT, and he finished in the top 20 of his class. His economics teacher nicknamed him "President Gomez" and said he is "one of the best students ever to graduate from Killian."

In 2007, during Juan's senior year in high school, he was placed in deportation proceedings. hat happened next was American democracy at work. Scott Elfenbein was the student body president at Juan's high school. He was also Juan's best friend. Scott started a Facebook page devoted to stopping Juan's deportation. On the Facebook page, he wrote, "We need your help in saving Juan from being sent to Colombia — a country he doesn't even remember. For those of you who know Juan, he is the smartest and most dedicated kid you ever met. He deserves more than to just be deported. Many of us owe him. I know he helped everyone one way or another in school. It's the least we can do for him."

Within one week, over 2000 people joined Juan's Facebook page. Then, Juan's friends came to Capitol Hill to lobby on his behalf. They persuaded Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (from Florida) and then Senator Chris Dodd (from Connecticut) to introduce a bill to stop Juan's deportation. Rep. Diaz Balart is a Republican and he is a lead cosponsor of the DREAM Act in the House of Representatives. Former Senator Chris Dodd is a Democrat.

After his deportation was stayed, Juan was admitted to Georgetown University on a full scholarship. Juan is going to graduate from Georgetown in May. He has been offered a job at a top financial services firm in New York City. The DREAM Act would give Juan, and thousands like him, a chance to contribute their skills to the country they love.

Gaby Pacheco's parents came to this country from Ecuador when she was 7. Gaby was the highest ranked Junior R.O.T.C. student in her high school, and she received the highest score on the military's aptitude test. The Air Force tried to recruit Gaby but she was unable to enlist because she did not have legal status.

Since then, Gaby has earned two associates degrees in education and a BA in special education. Gaby has also served as the president of her student government and the president of Florida's Junior Community College Student Government Association. Gaby's dream is to teach autistic children.

Gaby is one of four students who walked all the way from Miami, Florida, to Washington, D.C. — 1,500 miles — in order to build support for the DREAM Act. Along the way, these four students were joined by hundreds of supporters. They called their trip the Trail of Dreams.

(The stories about Herta Llusho, Juan Gomez, and Gaby Pacheco can be found in the DREAM SABBATH TOOLKIT, 65-74.)

6) JAN GARRETT, The Moral Case for the DREAM Act

The term "DREAM" in DREAM Act stands for "Development. Relief, and Education for Alien Minors." The Act was introduced ten years ago in Congress by Senator Richard Durbin from Illinois, who is still in Congress and still supports the Act.

Sen. Durbin says that the act is based on a fundamental moral principle. "It's wrong to punish children for acts of their parents." Even if the case can be made that their parents broke a law coming to the U.S. without going through legal channels and should be penalized for that, it does not at all follow that the children should be penalized.

We might add that most faith traditions recognize a moral duty to protect the vulnerable.

My contribution will be to introduce another principle that applies in this case. I shall rely on Joseph H. Carens' article, "Immigrants and the Right to Stay," which was originally published in the Boston Review and has since been included in a book with the same title (Carens 2010). Carens is a Political Scientist at the University of Toronto.

He does not explicitly discuss the DREAM Act in his article. He is trying to formulate an approach to the immigration issue that can cut through the emotional rhetoric and provide significant relief to the suffering of the people, while working within the broad tradition of liberal democratic constitutionalism. I say "relief" because Carens recognizes that his principle cannot solve all the conflicts associated with immigration.

But his principle supports the DREAM Act. So, for today, I am asking you to consider it in relation to this Act. The Act too would not produce comprehensive immigration reform, although it does not stand in the way of it.

Carens' principle is as follows: "The moral rights of states to apprehend and deport irregular immigrants erodes with the passage of time." He explains,

As irregular migrants become more and more settled, their membership in society grows in moral importance, and the fact that they settled without authorization becomes correspondingly less relevant. At some point a threshold is crossed, and they acquire a moral claim to have their actual social membership legally recognized. They should acquire a legal right of permanent residence and all the rights that go with that, including eventual access to citizenship. (Carens, 18)
Most people think that states have rights to decide whom they will admit and to apprehend and deport migrants who settle without official authorization. Carens accepts that general principle for the sake of discussion, but argues that nation states may be morally obliged to grant legal-residence status to irregular migrants. "There is some period of time beyond which it is unreasonable to deport people who arrived illegally." (Carens, 12)

The rationale behind Carens' approach rests upon an understanding of human existence with which [many of you] are familiar. It is also part of the deep common sense of cultures that claim to belong to the liberal democratic tradition. I have in mind the principle [that we should] "respect for the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part." Leave aside for now the environmental applications of that principle and focus instead on how the quality of human existence depends upon relationships that people have with other persons in their national and local communities. These ties are so important that when we are deprived of them we suffer severely in ways that go far beyond economic deprivation (though that is usually included).

Human rights at least in significant part rest upon the fact that we cannot survive in good mental health without such ties and without the chance to build self-respect by contributing to human networks in particular locations, networks that involve family members and others who are not family. Growing up, going to school, developing friendships, and working in a community, gradually develops one's identity as belonging to that community.

Being raised in the country makes a person a member of its society, says Carens. This was recognized in the British Nationality Act of 1981. It was eventually applied in the case of Margaret Grimmond. She was born in the U.S. but came to Scotland with her mother as a young child. At age 80 she left for Australia on a family vacation and was told by immigration officials when she returned that she wasn't legally permitted to stay; in fact she had four weeks to leave. At that point she didn't know anybody in the U.S. (Carens, 8-9)

The rationale that led to the overturning of British immigration's decision in Grimmond's case, Carens argues, applies

even more forcefully to children who are not born in a country but who spend ten [or more] years of their childhood there. After all, the ten years from six to sixteen (or from eight to eighteen) are even more important in creating a substantial connection to the country where one lives that the first ten years of life. The later years of childhood are the most important ones from society's perspective—the formative years of education and wider socialization. Human beings raised in a democratic society become members of that society: not recognizing their social membership is cruel and unjust. It is morally wrong to force someone to leave the place where she was raised, where she received her social formation, and where she has her most important human connections. Yet current legal rules in North America threaten many young people in just this way. (Carens, 10-11)
Carens' reasoning is compelling, and it applies directly to the case of the young people whose situation is addressed by the DREAM Act. We have only to add that the DREAMers, as these young people are called, are already members of U.S. society by virtue of their life experiences (even if they have not always been granted the respect they deserve by other members of that society). Therefore, they should have the legal right to essentially the same educational opportunities as young people whose membership is not in question and to enter on the path to U.S. citizenship subject to reasonable conditions like those in the DREAM Act.


Carens, Joseph H., 2010. Immigrants and the Right to Stay. Cambridge MA: The MIT Press (Boston Review Book).

Hidalgo, Mayra, 2011. Take Part in the DREAM Sabbath. (Standing on the Side of Love website).

Interfaith Immigration Coalition, 2011. DREAM SABBATH 2011 TOOLKIT (a 74-page document).