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Cardinal addesses senators

Mel Flanagan | Thursday, October 27, 2011

The future of the immigration issue rests not in the hands of those in Washington D.C., but in the hands of today’s youth, a former archbishop said at Student Senate’s meeting Wednesday.

Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop emeritus of Los Angeles, asked the senators how many of them knew an undocumented student who attended their high schools. Approximately half raised their hands.

“We need you, you’re the ones who are going to get this done because you know personally people affected by our current policy which is very broken,” Mahony said.

Mahony is currently advocating the Dream Act, a bill that would grant legal residency to undocumented students who attend college, graduate and serve in the military for a minimum of two years.

“This act looks at one segment of undocumented people and that’s young people who were brought here at the age of 16 or younger,” Mahony said. “They did not make the choice to come here. They were brought here by parents or relatives.”

These young people often graduate from high school and college, Mahony said, but have no where to go from there.

“Once they finish college they are at the end of a dead end street because they have no Social Security number of legal status,” he said. “They can’t get a job that is equivalent to their education and training.”

Mahony has spoken with many of these “dreamers,” including some attending Saint Mary’s College and Holy Cross College, and said he feels heartbroken by it.

“They say to me, ‘What do I do when graduation comes?’ And I don’t have an answer,” he said. “I don’t have any next step to utilize what they have done and gone through to help them.”

The Dream Act is a simple yet highly rewarding way to reform the current immigration laws, Mahony said.

However, the federal government did not pass the Dream Act when it was before Congress. Mahony said anti-immigration feelings are running high due to the economic downturn.

“In 2000, no one was discussing immigration because unemployment was at 3.9 percent and we needed all those people,” he said. “But every time there’s a recession there is always a new focus on immigration as a problem. In our country we’re really bent on blaming someone for our economic downturns, and we inevitably turn to immigration.”

Mahony said this constantly changing attitude is similar to the United States erecting a fence with two signs, one that says “No trespassing” and another that says “Help wanted.”

For example, the United States claims it does not want or need more workers, Mahony said. However, the undocumented immigrants often perform the jobs that many Americans refuse to do themselves.

“If we moved all the standards of regular U.S. employees and the benefits and wages to agriculture, then a head of lettuce would probably cost $5,” Mahony said. “On one sense, we don’t want these people here. On the other hand we like our lettuce for 70 cents a head.”

The last major immigration law was the Immigration Regulation and Control Act of 1986, Mahony said. This act gave a limited amnesty to undocumented immigrants who had been living in the U.S., working and paying their bills for the past five years.

Mahony said many church leaders asked the federal government to include plans for the future in the act and the government promised to address that issue later, but never did.

“Now we have 11 million undocumented living in the U.S. today, almost all of them living in blended families where some members are documented and some are not,” he said. “And we can’t move them out of the shadows.”

The dreamers represent a very small portion of the undocumented, Mahony said, a portion whose talents and gifts are being wasted.

In the meantime, he said the only advice he can offer these students is to remain in school despite the discouragement they often feel.

“It is better to be educated than not educated,” he said. “As we move down the road and there’s an opportunity for you to become legal, and we’re going to get there, your having a college education is extremely valuable.”