By Mar Muñoz-Visoso

I didn’t used to be fan of sending messages to Congress. I thought too often it was the work of powerful interests manipulating average Americans to their convenience. Or, when there was a cause I considered worth speaking up for, I thought massive post card campaigns or even personal, inspanidualized letters were a waste of time. “What were the chances my letter was going to be read among the hundreds of thousands each congressman or woman receives each year? I’ll speak up at the time of elections,” I thought, and perhaps march in a rally or two if I felt the need to make extra noise about some issue. {{more}}

Until one day I realized sending letters was not about me, or the chances of my letter being read. It was about the amazing chance that this participatory democracy allows citizens and non-citizens alike to weigh in on issues and make our voices be heard.

I still don’t do this on a regular basis, or about just any issue (some people just have way too much time on their hands!), but when they touch our youth, when the future of beautiful young minds is being shuttered and condemned to a life of mediocrity or servitude, that gets me going! Especially since something as simple as passing the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) would resolve this horrible injustice for those willing to work for it.

The DREAM Act is no free pass. It would allow students who arrived here undocumented at a young age, at no fault of their own, to gain conditional residency. But in order to be eligible, they must either serve in the military or go to college.

We must also consider for all practical purposes that America is the only country these kids have ever known or have a recollection of. The kids who will benefit from the DREAM Act are trapped in a no man’s land right now. And since we’ve probably invested a good deal of our taxes in their elementary and middle education already, we would get better returns on our investment the more educated they get, the better their incomes are, the higher the taxes they pay and the more meaningful their contribution of talents to society is.

They are often brothers and sisters of other children whose fate determined they be born on this side of the border. These undocumented kids work just as hard as their U.S. born classmates, they just don’t get the same opportunities. Without hope for a brighter future, many drop out, not to mention the cases of clinical depression, anger management and even attempted suicide, I have personally witnessed or heard of when the realization hits them hard that, no matter how hard they work, they will never be able to escape the “No more education/dreams allowed for you” life sentence.

Author Helen Thorpe, in her book “Just Like Us,” was able to recreate masterfully the plight of four kids in this situation. It is recommended reading for anyone who wants to understand what they go through. She followed them through four years of high school, listened to their conversations, witnessed their frustrations and in turn allowed us to hear them.

After several failed attempts to pass the DREAM Act — in spite of it enjoying bi-partisan support, a hot commodity these days—whether because it was included in larger bills that did not pass in Congress or because it got swept aside in the turmoil of political partisanship and elections, there is talk in Congress about taking it up again. Many congressmen in both parties in 2001, 2006, 2007 and 2008 said they liked the bill but that they were not hearing from enough constituents in favor of it in order to support it. So this time I will not fail to act.

I woke up this morning, went to the Justice for Immigrants web site ( sponsored by the U.S. Catholic Bishops and clicked on the “Take Action” button. A sample letter appeared: “Dear Member of Congress, I write to ask your support for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act…”

I only needed to add my name and address to personalize it and hit “send.” Just like that, it went to my House Representative and two senators. It also asked me if I would like to share it with a few friends.

Check your in-box. You may have just gotten an e-mail from me inviting you, and Congress, to act.

Mar Muñoz-Visoso is assistant director of media relations at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.