Searching for the American DREAM
Today's guest blogger is David Fraccaro, an ordained United Church of Christ Minister who works at Interfaith Youth Core as coordinator of the "Stranger to Neighbor" initiative which seeks to build greater interfaith collaboration and friendship between diverse communities of faith and their immigrant/refugee neighbors.
Our elected government officials will be voting on the DREAM Act over the next few days. If passed, this bipartisan bill will provide a pathway to citizenship for young people of "good moral character" that have plans to enter college or serve in the military.
Soccer star, honor student, musician, youth minister. These are just a few of the qualities that make Bernard Pastor, a recent Reading High School from Cincinnati, "the ultimate gentleman," according to Paige Sales, Bernard's senior-year prom date. She shared this with tears in her eyes as she returned from visiting Bernard with dozens of other classmates who organized a prayer vigil two hours away at the Morrow County Jail in Ohio.
Just a few weeks earlier Bernard was making plans to attend trade school, and then ministerial studies when he was involved in a minor traffic accident and police discovered that he was undocumented. Though he had been living in the United States for the past 15 years with a family that had fled military and religious persecution in Guatemala, Pastor is now in immigration detention, awaiting deportation to a country he hadn't lived since he was three.
Bernard is only one of the 65,000 undocumented high school students that graduate each year, all of whom could face similarly tragic consequences. Despite being some of the brightest student leaders in our local schools, most will not be able to attend college, and none of them will be able to legally obtain employment. This will be a tremendous waste of talent, and economic productivity for the United States unless the DREAM Act is passed.
Bernard's story reminds me of my friend Daniel, a soccer player and honor student who also came with his family from Guatemala when he was young, and was placed inside of a detention center in New Jersey during his senior year of highs school for seven months.
Amidst the deplorable conditions and hopelessness of detention, Daniel's spirit could not be broken. He continued to study math and practice foreign languages. He learned yoga, and how to breakdance. He was an inspiration to the other immigrants and asylum seekers in detention, and to the privileged people, like me, who visited him and became his friend. Daniel was eventually released, graduated amongst the top of his class to thunderous applause, and has been able to attend a top engineering research university through the support of those he inspired.
Leaders like Bernard and Daniel, who understand America as home, should be able to serve and contribute to the country they love. During a recent interview from jail Pastor said, "I am an American. It's all I know - American school, American history (and) American culture. Where I was born doesn't define me."
I have trained and befriended some of these "dreamers" through the Interfaith Youth Core's Strange to Neighbor Initiative, and what defines them the most is their "good moral character." They are not only exceptional leaders, but they represent the best of their diverse religious and ethical traditions in their respect and care for others. I've no doubt they, like Bernard and Daniel will continue to touch the lives of their fellow classmates, and citizens if give the opportunity.
Even from detention, Bernard continues to inspire, "My life is in God's hands, where it has always been. I am not praying for myself. It is better to pray for other people than oneself. I know I'm here for a purpose, even if I don't know what it is. Not a leaf falls from a tree that God does not know about." I pray our elected officials practice similar moral character as they consider passing the DREAM act.
The content of this blog reflects the views of its author and does not necessarily reflect the views of either Eboo Patel or the Interfaith Youth Core.
December 2, 2010; 6:10 PM ET
Religion & Leadership
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