Mark A. Smith is professor of Political Science and an adjunct professor of Comparative Religion and Communication at the University of Washington. His research focuses on economic and religious groups, ideas, and influences in American politics. In his new book, Secular Faith: How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics, Dr. Smith argues that religion is not nearly the unchanging conservative influence in American politics that we have come to think it is and is best understood as responding to changing political and cultural values rather than shaping them.
The DREAM Act, a piece of federal legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children to remain in the U.S. if they attend college or join the military, is currently stalled in Congress. Yet it remains a potent political issue in the 2012 election, spurred on in August by an Obama administration directive, which granted a temporary reprieve to current undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children if they met certain requirements.
Now, Maryland voters will have the opportunity to decide if they believe their state should have its own version of the DREAM Act, which would allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at public colleges if their parents have paid state taxes and the students have attended Maryland schools. The law passed last year in the state legislature, but opponents succeeded in petitioning the law to the ballot for the state’s voters to decide.
Overall, 6-in-10 (60%) Americans favor allowing illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to gain legal resident status if they join the military or go to college. A Washington Post poll shows similar levels of support among Maryland likely voters.
Religious leaders are rallying around their state’s version of the DREAM Act, a move that is consistent with religious Americans’ support at the national level. Majorities of all religious groups, with the exception of white evangelical Protestants, who are divided, support allowing illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to gain legal resident status if they join the military or go to college, including more than 6-in-10 Catholics (65%) and black Protestants (64%), and a majority (55%) of white mainline Protestants.
There has been significant debate over what the cost implications of the law would be for taxpayers both in the long and short term. A study released earlier this month shows that investing in undocumented immigrants’ education could bring $66 million in economic benefit to the state. However, the law’s opponents contend that it would result in more illegal immigration, potentially burdening schools and social service agencies.
If the measure passes in Maryland, it will be the first state to implement a state-level version of the DREAM Act. But given Americans’ levels of support for this policy, it certainly seems possible that more states might follow suit.