As a bishop of the church and a veteran, I stand with Dreamers

 As a bishop of the church and a veteran, I stand with Dreamers
© Greg Nash

Two hundred and eighty-five years ago this month, the state of Georgia was founded by James Oglethorpe, a British immigrant. Oglethorpe dreamed of a place where poverty could be overcome, where religious tolerance was the norm and where slavery was prohibited. In part, the fulfillment of his dream depended on the willingness of native Americans to make space for Oglethorpe’s dream alongside their dreams.

Two hundred thirty years later there was another dreamer from Georgia. It was 1963 and the dreamer was Dr. King. His dream, was “…deeply rooted in the American dream,” he said.

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His dream inspired a country to “…live out the true meaning of its creed.” You could say, dream inspired actions are what we do in America. We dream. We act.  

 

Today there are new dreamers. You may be one. The dream is the passage of the DREAM Act, bipartisan legislation that seeks to afford people brought to the U.S. as minors a conditional path to citizenship.

Recent polling numbers have been wonky, but Americans are in favor of letting DACA recipients stay.

There are 690,000 DREAMers and 24,000 live in Georgia. On average they have lived in the U.S. for 14 years. Overwhelmingly they are law-abiding, high-functioning contributors to society.

They are in 41 states and more than 30 counties, metropolitan areas and cities. Many are highly skilled and credentialed — 70,500 are self-employed, 80 percent speak English exclusively, 29 percent are college educated, 392,500 have children who are U.S. citizens and more than 100,000 are married to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. However, until the passage of the DREAM Act, Dreamers will lose protection from deportation every day.

Even with bipartisan political support the passage of the DREAM Act is not certain. Their righteous cause has been hijacked by political partisans, fear mongers and xenophobes on both sides. Not only that, the fact of the DREAMers presents us with a profound identity question. This was true before the current administration took office.  

The question is a recurring one for any society, institution or individual: does our current reality resemble the words we enshrine? No one should be surprised that we stand at this intersection. America is, after all, an adolescent nation attempting to cling to her morals in an increasingly complex world.

The question for us is simple: Do the words on the base of the Statue of Liberty, still encapsulate who America is or not? “Give us your tired, your poor, the wretched refuse…huddled masses yearning to breathe free….”

As a bishop of the church, a veteran, a father and a husband I stand with those who hope for America’s greatness to increase. 

And I believe there is more greatness ahead for America if we can remember that a great nation can secure its borders without hardening the hearts of its people against the vulnerable. 

A great nation should deport dangerous felons, while passing legislation that provides a future and a hope to those who have demonstrated their trustworthiness.

Great nations showcase the distinction of their national identity without denigrating the identity of others. Great nations find imaginative ways to enact laws that are neither naive nor brutal. Indeed, great nations show their  power by showing mercy. 

As this issue tests us, we should understand that human dignity and intrinsic worth transcends borders and legal or national status. We call them immigrants, illegals, even DREAMers but they are people. Mothers, fathers, siblings and children. Made in the image of God. Our siblings in God.

What animated Oglethorpe’s and King’s dreams was the Judeo-Christian belief that national greatness can and should be measured by the care and compassion extended to the foreigner, the alien and the transient. Our sensitivity to the plight of these groups has its origin in the fact that our own spiritual ancestors were aliens and immigrants.

From Abraham and Sarah to Moses and including Jesus, each experienced the vulnerability of living in the corners of a dominant culture. More personal than that, except for the native population of North America, all of us can point back to some ancestor who came to this country either above the decks of a ship or below decks as chattel.

These realities are supposed to cause in us a palpable gratitude to God and mobilize us with compassion to those presently in perilous situations. In America our dreams are bound up together.

Bishop Robert C. Wright is the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, GA