As members of Congress debate the DREAM Act once again, opponents of the act are again attacking the legislation as "backdoor amnesty." Instead of allowing ourselves to be caught up in such broad rhetoric, we must understand that the DREAM Act is neither backdoor, nor is it amnesty.
Amnesty is defined as "a general pardon for offenses, esp. political offenses, against a government." The Greek root of the word, amnestia, refers to the process of forgetting. An alternative definition of amnesty may, therefore, be "a forgetting and forgiveness of sins." By such a definition, we can see the message of the gospel as one that grants us amnesty by Christ.
Regardless of where we differ on the benefits or demerits of amnesty, let us be thoughtful and discern enough to realize that the DREAM Act is not amnesty. Rather, it is an extension of grace to a very specific group of people who did not knowingly commit a crime against the United States.
If the DREAM Act passes this year, it would only provide a path to citizenship for those immigrants who meet a very strict set of requirements. The only immigrants who would be eligible would be those who came to the United States at the age of 15 or younger; have lived continuously in the United States since before 2005; were under the age of 30 on the date of enactment; demonstrate good moral character (i.e. prove they have not committed any crimes that would make them inadmissible to the country as determined by existing immigration law); and have graduated from high school, obtained a GED certificate, served in the military, or have been admitted to an institution of higher education in the United States.
We see from these rigorous preconditions that any person eligible for the benefits of the DREAM Act was brought the U.S. at a young age and has been living here for years. Can we honestly, with wholehearted conviction, claim that these individuals are criminals for following their parents into the country as children? Can we look into the face of our brothers and sisters in Christ, like Gaby Pacheco, and tell them that they will be accountable for the infractions of their parents? Such an accusation is not consistent with American or Christian values.
We read in the book of Romans that we all fall short and are in need of grace in our own lives. We are offered that grace through redemption that came from Christ. How can we then turn to our neighbors who are being charged with a crime that they did not knowingly commit and refuse to extend grace? Such a judgment will render them second-class citizens for the rest of their lives.
We understand that a vote on this bill will be coming up in the Senate this week. Please call your Senator and ask them to support the DREAM Act -- even if you have done so many, many times before. They need to know that you are watching and care.
Andrew Simpson is a policy and organizing intern at Sojourners.