While much of the political turmoil surrounding immigration reform has calmed down in the past year, it remains a pressing social issue. Congress is now contemplating action on the aptly named “DREAM Act.” It may be the best next step for immigration reform. 

DREAM stands for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, and it has been on the congressional docket since August 2001. During that time, it has had Republican as well as Democratic co-sponsors, and for good reason. 

While the specifics of the bill have evolved and been clarified, its general outline has remained the same. 

The DREAM Act is predicated on the assumption that the “sins” of the parents — in this case, entering our country illegally — should not be visited upon the child (see story, Page 4). It offers a path to citizenship for those children who were brought into the United States illegally before the age of 16, and who are committed either to attending two years of college or serving in the U.S. military. 

The legislation would not cover anyone convicted of anything other than a non-drug-related misdemeanor, and it would first grant a period of time for permanent resident status before allowing applications for full citizenship. Applicants would also need to have lived in then country at least five years. 

The U.S. bishops have endorsed the legislation, calling it “the right thing to do.” In a letter to Congress dated Dec. 2, Coadjutor Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, said that the proposed law would allow us “to welcome a new generation of Americans who will one day become leaders of our nation.” 

“It is important to note that these young persons entered the United States with their parents at a young age, and therefore did not enter without inspection on their own volition. We would all do the same thing in a similar situation.” 

Many of these young people have little memory of their parents’ homeland but are eager to serve their adopted country. While the DREAM Act will not solve all of our immigration problems — a broken immigration system, cruel and illogical laws and uneven and ineffective border controls, as well as many poor neighbors who cannot offer their own people the promises that attracted our forefathers and foremothers to these shores — it is a long overdue step toward fairness and justice for at least a few of America’s estimated 12 million illegal or undocumented immigrants. 

While the vote during Congress’ lame-duck session this month may not secure passage, this proposal should become law. If it fails now, we would urge Congress to again consider it in its 2011 session. It should not become a pawn of other agendas and interests, but be passed on its merits. It is worthy of a bipartisan majority, and we encourage our political leaders to get beyond the threats and extremist rhetoric of some immigration opponents. The majority of Americans who understand the fairness of this bill will support it. 

In the words of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., Bishop Robert Finn, who also endorsed the DREAM Act recently: 

“Today, I am asking you to remember how we are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants and that we, too, have benefited from this opportunity and the American values of fairness, compassion and hard work. With the passage of the DREAM Act, we can welcome a new generation of Americans who will one day become the leaders of our communities.”

Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; John Norton, editor; Sarah Hayes, presentation editor.