Land: ERLC supports 'clean' DREAM Act

Baptist Press
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Posted: Jun 29, 2011 6:22 PM
Land: ERLC supports 'clean' DREAM Act
WASHINGTON (BP)--The Southern Baptist Convention's public policy entity supports -- with conditions -- legislation that would give the children of illegal immigrants the opportunity to gain legal status.

In a June 27 letter, Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), informed two U.S. senators the organization would back a "clean" bill on the issue. Land told Sens. Charles Schumer, D.-N.Y., and John Cornyn, R.-Texas, that the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act must meet certain requirements to receive the ERLC's backing.

The stipulations for ERLC support, Land said in his letter, include:

-- A program to make legal status possible should be available only to those "whose presence in this country illegally is not a result of their decision." In other words, they were children when they were brought into the United States, likely by their parents.

-- It would require those in the program to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces or attend college.

-- The legal status gained by those in the program would not be transferred to family members or utilized to bring family members into the country.

The ERLC will not support "backdoor amnesty," Land told Baptist Press. "If stray over into what is backdoor amnesty by allowing these young people, once they become legal, to then sponsor those who came here illegally, then we would have to withdraw our support," he said.

"The appeal of a clean DREAM Act is that it allows young people who are in this illegal posture through no fault of their own an opportunity to earn their way to legal status by serving their country in the military or by getting an education which would make them productive members of society," Land said.

Those who meet the requirements outlined by Land would be in a position to be considered legally in the country but might not necessarily become legal citizens or permanent residents.

Land's letter went to Schumer and Cornyn a day before a congressional hearing on the legislation. Witnesses, including three from the Obama administration, testified June 28 before the Immigration, Refugees and Border Security Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee. Schumer is chairman of the subcommittee, while Cornyn is the lead Republican.

Sen. Richard Durbin, D.-Ill., has introduced the DREAM Act, S. 952, but the ERLC has not taken a position on his proposal. Durbin's bill has 34 cosponsors.

In his letter, Land told the senators the "children of undocumented immigrants who were brought here by their parents should not be forced to bear the full penalty of their presence in the nation illegally. To consign them to lives often-times bordering on poverty levels for actions in which they had no part is too severe a penalty."

Of the military service provision, Land said in his letter, "Those who desire to serve our nation in such a potentially dangerous way demonstrate the kind of spirit that exemplifies the best of what it means to be an American. They should be rewarded with the privilege of calling themselves legal immigrants in return for their service."

Those who fit the category of children of illegal immigrants should have a legal status that keeps them from being deported for a reasonable time period while they are in college, Land said in his letter. They also should have the option to seek "conditional legal status afterward" without it being expanded to include family, he said.

"This unique educational status is a privilege the country would be giving to those who did not themselves break the nation's immigrant laws, but were brought here as children by parents who did break the nation's laws," Land said.

With his letter, Land also provided the senators with copies of resolutions on immigration approved by messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meetings in 2006 and 2011.

Messengers at the most recent meeting passed a measure on June 15 calling for the government to make a priority of border security and to hold businesses accountable in their hiring. It also requested public officials "to implement, with the borders secured, a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country."

The resolution contained language clarifying it was "not to be construed as support for amnesty for any undocumented immigrant."

The resolution -- approved by what appeared to be from 70 to 80 percent of the messengers -- urged Southern Baptist churches to proclaim Christ and minister in His spirit to everyone, regardless of their "immigration status." It said "any form of nativism, mistreatment, or exploitation is inconsistent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

Over the last several years, Land has consistently called for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for those in the country illegally that would consist of such requirements as paying fines, undergoing a criminal background check, learning English, pledging allegiance to the American government, accepting a probationary period and going to the back of the line behind those seeking to enter the country legally.

Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.

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