Concord When Sister Bernadette McNamara, 78, called the offices of Sen. Richard Burr and Rep. Sue Myrick in support of undocumented students Friday, she made a point to say she came to the United States as a “foreigner.”
McNamara, of Belmont, was one of the more than 300 Roman Catholic nuns from 18 states – and Guam and Jamaica – who gathered at the Embassy Suites Convention Center Friday to call their U.S. senators and representatives to urge them to support the DREAM Act.
The legislation would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, provided they complete high school and attend college or serve in the military.
McNamara came to the United States from Ireland in 1951 but did not become a citizen until 1991. “I had the opportunity in this country to go to college. I would hope that the same privileges would be afforded to these young people,” McNamara said.
Dubbed “Dial A Dream,” the event Friday is an effort by the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas’ South Central Community to bring attention to the DREAM Act.
“I and we have to act in the way Jesus would want us to act,” said Sister Rose Marie Tresp, 62, director of justice for the South Central Community, based in Belmont. “What policies would he be supporting? Whether or not people are supporting us is really irrelevant.”
This is not the first time that Sister Mary Gerard Donovan, 87, of Belmont, has placed calls to elected officials regarding social justice issues. But it took her awhile before she could reach one of her representatives’ offices. The first time she dialed, she got a busy tone when she tried Burr, a Republican from Winston-Salem. She reached out by mistake to The Washington Post on her second try.
“I should have gone ahead with my message,” Donovan joked after calling the newspaper. The third time, Donovan reached Myrick’s Charlotte office.
She identified herself to the staffer, and urged that Myrick, a Charlotte Republican, support the DREAM Act. Myrick has waged high-profile campaigns against illegal immigration.
“This is our way to bring systematic change – making these calls,” Donovan said. “It’s about injustice. They’re taking young people with no recollection of Mexico – or wherever they’re from – and sometimes parents are left behind.”
Friday’s event comes a week after President Barack Obama issued a directive to prevent the deportations of hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children.
Obama last week called the policy a “temporary stopgap” that would give Congress time to pass the DREAM Act. The bill was introduced in 2001. Until now the White House had been reluctant to bypass Congress.
Nationally, the Catholic Church and the Sisters of Mercy have supported the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform, Tresp said.
Tresp invited three DREAM-eligible students to attend Friday’s event so that the sisters could put faces to the legislation they were calling about.
One of the women, Cynthia Martinez, 21, of Sanford, was brought from Mexico as a 2-year-old. “We do advocate for ourselves, but allies are always welcome – they can vote,” said Martinez, who is involved with the Raleigh-based N.C. Dream Team. “I’m American in every other way except a nine-digit (Social Security) number. I pledge my allegiance to the U.S. flag, I wear American clothes, I even speak with a Southern accent sometimes.”