Written Testimony of Rev. Joseph Williams, Pastor, Church of St. Stephen, on MN Dream Act (S.F. 723)

(PDF VERSION)

The Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee
March 14, 2013
S.F. 723

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee:

My name is Rev. Joseph Williams; I am a Roman Catholic priest and pastor of the Church of St. Stephen in Minneapolis. I am representing the Minnesota Catholic Conference (MCC), the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Minnesota. MCC wishes to express its support for S.F. 723 (Pappas), which provides students who are aspiring citizens with resident tuition rates at state universities and colleges.

At the heart of the Gospel message is the recognition of the dignity of all human persons, each of whom is made in the image and likeness of God. Further, there is a biblical command to welcome the stranger in our midst. Catholic social teaching compels our faith community to offer assistance to and become advocates for immigrant Americans and their families.

Therefore, we support S.F. 723 because it addresses the basic human need of access to education for young undocumented immigrants, most of whom came to this country at a very young age with their families. For many, America is the only home they know. They are kids who have worked hard, who have made the right choices, and who have earned acceptance to higher education. As a society, we can either relegate them to a permanent underclass, or offer them a path to economic opportunity and a future that will serve all Americans well.

This bill will make access to higher education and more job opportunities a real possibility for many young people in Minnesota. My experience working with many of these young people and their families at St. Stephen’s, a predominantly Latino parish, is that they love this country, and want to both contribute to and share in the opportunities you and I have.

In particular, I am thinking of Vicente, a high school senior whose family came to this county when he was four years old.  He is a bright kid and natural leader whose dream is to attend my alma mater, University of Minnesota, Morris.  Last month, my parish created a new staff position, hiring a recent graduate of the University of St. Thomas to help young Latinos like Vicente navigate their way into higher education. The truth is that many of them already have two strikes against them: they are the first in their family to pursue higher education, so the terrain is unfamiliar, and they must fight certain cultural attitudes that lead them to say “No puedo.”  Adding the financial burden of paying non-resident tuition rates is a third strike for many of these students, and it will make the work of our church on their behalf—in particular our new staff member—more difficult.

Some may perceive this bill as an endorsement for illegal immigration. It is instead an affirmation of our basic American ideals of hard work and commitment. It requires that those eligible for tuition have successfully attended high school in Minnesota for more than three years, and it requires recipients of state aid to work toward legal immigration status.

As Catholics, we are called to help lift up all people; and as Americans, we seek to make America stronger and healthier for future generations. This bill does both.

Thank you.