Task force created to help Maryland voters recognize benefits of DREAM
Tuesday, July 05, 2011 11:27 AM
Church officials from across Maryland formed a task force last month to help educate state residents about the Catholic Church's position on immigration.
Baltimore Auxiliary Bishop Mitchell Rozanski speaks at a July 1 press conference at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Baltimore announcing an interfaith effort to get Maryland voters to realize that the DREAM Act helps Maryland’s children and improves their access to a good education. Priests, pastors, and faith leadership from various faith communities spoke at the press conference.
The Maryland Catholic Conference announced last Thursday that Washington Auxiliary Bishop Francisco González will chair the Inter-diocesan Immigration Task Force. Four representatives each from the Archdioceses of Washington and Baltimore as well as the Diocese of Wilmington joined three members of the conference to urge Catholics to support the state's recently passed DREAM Act.
Signed into law last May, Senate Bill 167 - also called the DREAM Act - would allow immigrant students to begin courses this fall at community colleges at in-state tuition rates. Opponents of the law recently signed a petition asking for the law to be placed on a statewide referendum in 2012.
The request has delayed the law's enactment while the state's election officials have until July 22 to verify the signatures. If there are enough valid signatures, the issue will be placed on the ballot for voters to decide.
"We hope and pray that the people of Maryland will consider the merits of this law with honest minds and open hearts, and will choose to support it," said Baltimore Auxiliary Bishop Mitchell Rozanski at a recent press conference in support of the law. "The most compelling test of our actions will be the judgment of those who come after us. Today, we want to be sure that these young men and women can look back years from now, and know we stood by them."
The bishop, who serves as a liaison to the Spanish-speaking Catholic community in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, said he has witnessed many success stories of children of immigrants who have come to know America and Maryland as their home.
"They came here through no choice of their own," Bishop Rozanski said. "They came as any child would - holding the hands of those they love and trust to seek for them the best opportunities possible."
The task force also hopes to promote the Church's advocacy on immigration issues while connecting those issues to Gospel values.
"We are an immigrant Church," Bishop Rozanski added, "historically, the Catholic Church has always stood by the side of immigrants - we continue to do so today."
As passed, the DREAM Act would provide in-state tuition rates to undocumented students who can prove they have attended high school in Maryland for the past three years and have a parent or guardian who has been paying state income taxes during that time. If students meet those criteria and are academically eligible, they may apply to a state university or college at in-state rates after two years of study at a community college.
"We recognize the powerful emotions people have on immigration, which is a very complex issue," said Mary Ellen Russell, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference.
In addition to the task force, the conference has also launched a Facebook page dedicated to the issue of immigration: www.facebook.com/JusticeforMDImmigrants.
"The Church does not condone breaking the law, and fully recognizes the legitimate concerns our state and country face regarding illegal immigration," Russell added. "Our faith calls us to embrace all, even the 'stranger' because Christ dwells in us all."
Msgr. Mark Brennan, pastor of St. Martin of Tours Parish in Gaithersburg, serves on the task force and considers the law's passage a simple act of justice.
"These young people who were brought here from other countries only know our country," he said. The children grew up as neighbors - attending local schools, playing on our children's sports teams, Msgr. Brennan noted. "It's true they are not legal, but they didn't cause that problem themselves."
The priest said as Catholics "we must love thy neighbor" allowing qualified students to attend college at an in-state rate. "It is a matter of basic fairness to young people," Msgr. Brennan said. Currently tuition at the University of Maryland costs $8,416 for in-state residents and $24,831 for nonresidents.
Students applying to colleges and universities under the DREAM Act would not be taking seats set aside for Maryland residents and would not be eligible for federal or state scholarships or financial assistance.
The pastor agreed that immigration reform is sorely needed, but Maryland's DREAM Act was a bright spot on a dismal national landscape.
"Some people just don't like immigrants," he noted, adding that as Catholics the faithful must not forget recent history. "Catholics were in these same crosshairs at one point," Msgr. Brennan said. "My Irish ancestors were looked down upon, denied admission to some schools, country clubs and work opportunities."
Msgr. Brennan agreed that the task force will face an uphill climb in educating Catholics about immigration policy. However he pledged to help if the DREAM Act goes to referendum in a year and a half.
"We've got a lot of work to do to get people informed," he said. In addition to speaking to his own parishioners, he said the task force members will have to get out of the office and off the phone and talk to people.
"The great commandment Jesus gave us is to love God above all and love our neighbor as ourselves," Msgr. Brennan said. "They are our fellow human beings - the Lord says we should care for them."