More than 300 Sisters of Mercy are meeting in Concord June 21-24 for their biennial assembly and have set aside part of their time together to fight for the future of young, undocumented immigrants in the United States. The Sisters of Mercy is an international community of religious women who serve the sick, impoverished and uneducated with a focus on women and children.
The Sisters are calling the initiative Dial a Dream. At about 11:40 a.m. on June 22, they'll pull out their cell phones and devote 20 minutes to contacting their representatives in the U.S. Senate and House to urge passage of the DREAM Act. Long stalled in Congress, the DREAM Act would give current, former and future undocumented high school graduates and GED recipients a pathway to citizenship through college or the armed forces.
"These are our brothers and sisters," said Sister Rose Marie Tresp of Belmont, director of justice for the Sisters of Mercy–South Central Community. "God calls us to love them — especially the children, who are here through no fault of their own."
The DREAM Act, short for Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors, is a bipartisan bill that would give undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as young children a path toward citizenship if they attend college or serve in the military. An estimated 1.1 million students across the U.S. could be eligible for legal status under the DREAM Act, including more than 51,000 in North Carolina, according to the National Immigration Law Center. For many of these young people, the U.S. is the only home they know, and English is their first language.
The average college graduate earns about 60 percent more than the average high school graduate over his or her lifetime. A typical single person who graduates with a bachelor's makes an average annual salary of $60,000 and will generate about $11,194 in tax revenue every year, according to the IRS. North Carolina DREAM students have been raised and educated in the state, with taxpayers already investing in some of their elementary and secondary education. If only half of North Carolina's DREAM students attain a bachelor's degree, they will generate more than $285 million in tax revenue for North Carolina a year.
Last fall, the DREAM Act passed the House of Representatives and garnered the support of a majority in the Senate but was ultimately defeated when the Senate failed to bring it up for a timely vote following a filibuster.
Sister Rosemary Welsh, executive director of Casa de Misericordia, a domestic violence shelter for abused women and children in Laredo, Texas, will be one of the featured speakers during the assembly. In addition to the social-justice dimension, Welsh wants people to appreciate that passing the DREAM Act makes good business sense for a nation in need of an economic boost, as well as for young people yearning to become citizens.
"They want to become productive members of the community," she said. "And they have the skills and talents to be assets to our society. We need them to become doctors, nurses and teachers. Economically, it's good for our country."
For more information or to learn about how you can make a difference, visit www.latinamericancoalition.org.