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The Importance of DREAM Act

December 1, 2010

Many Sisters of Mercy work with immigrant families and youth. Some of them share their views of how the DREAM Act would benefit these young people as well as their communities.

Sister Rosemary Welsh has worked with immigrants in a domestic violence shelter and health clinic in Laredo, TX, since 1992.

She worries that young people without hope of finding meaningful, decent paying jobs are prey to gangs and drug cartels. They often can’t get scholarships to college, and can’t afford it on their own. If they do graduate, they can’t take board exams to become nurses because that requires a social security number; they can’t get background checks to teach or work with young children. “These young people need some kind of incentive to stay out of trouble — to work hard in school and do volunteer work — with the goal of having opportunities to stay in this country.” She urges young people to follow that path in hopes that someday they will be able to earn legal status. “But the kids say, ‘Sister, you’ve been telling us that for five years.’”

Sister Maria Luisa Vera also works with immigrants in Laredo.

“Many of them don’t know that they’re not legal residents until they’re picked up and have to produce papers. It’s very disconcerting to them to be told the country they thought was theirs doesn’t want them.” The DREAM Act is a “real win-win situation” for the young people and for their communities.

Sister Denise Sausville of Pharr, TX, works with families on both sides of the border, including with ARISE, a Sisters of Mercy-founded project that encourages education and personal and community development in the colonias. “It’s not by choice that these kids are here in the U.S.. It would be more productive for them and for us to give them opportunities. We all gain by them pursuing an education and contributing to their communities.”

Sister Rosemary Sabino is involved with a legal services agency in South Florida.

She says that many communities, where Spanish is the dominant language among both legal and undocumented immigrants, need young people who are bilingual and bicultural to serve as teachers and in the financial industry. But those paths are blocked to young people who were brought to the U.S. from other countries as infants or very young children. So instead, teachers are brought in from neighboring states to fill the need, and international banks in the region are hiring from abroad.

Sister Alicia Zapata has worked with farm workers for 25 years in Florida.

She took 21 undocumented youth to visit with Loretto Sisters at their motherhouse. “They expressed their pain at wanting something more and unable to get it. These kids came here when they were 2, 3 years old and know no place else. They have wonderful values and would benefit the community if allowed to live fully here.” She knows of some children of undocumented parents who were born in the U.S. and have gone on to become geriatric social workers or teachers. Older siblings in the same families are denied such opportunities because they were born elsewhere. Some children’s parents were able to attain legal residency status in 1986, but the children’s applications have languished for years. They can’t marry because if they do their application is nullified.

Tell your legislator that you want the DREAM Act passed now.

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