Cardinal Roger Mahony, retired archbishop of Los Angeles and longtime advocate of comprehensive immigration reform, is frustrated with the lack of action from Congress on the issue and hopes that today's young people will bring about a change.

"They get it. They're the ones who will make this happen," he told a group of Catholic college and university leaders Jan. 30 in Washington in a presentation during the three-day conference of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.

The cardinal lamented the failed passage of federal legislation in 2010 that would have helped children of undocumented immigrants work toward legal status and get a college education.

When asked about the status of these efforts in Congress, he said it was going "terribly," which is why he is focusing on the work of college students who are educating their peers and advocating for immigration reform.

He said Catholic higher education is getting involved in this issue by participating in regional workshops across the country and gearing up to use curriculum on their campuses that outlines the role of the church in helping immigrant populations.

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM Act, has been introduced in Congress in various forms since 2001. The bills have had bipartisan congressional backing and broad faith group and higher education support. Local, state and national Catholic organizations have been in the forefront of campaigns to pass the bills. The most recent version passed the House in 2010, but the Senate version fell five votes short of the 60 needed to break a filibuster threat.

The measure would have regularized the legal status of those who came to the United States before age 16, lived here at least five years, graduated from a U.S. high school and were pursuing higher education or military service.

If the legislation had passed, approximately 114,000 young people who had already obtained at least an associate's degree would have been immediately eligible for conditional lawful permanent resident status and 612,000 high school graduates would have been eligible if they graduated from college or completed two years of military service, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Dominican Sister Diane Kennedy, vice president of mission and ministry at Dominican University in Chicago, said a number of students at the university are undocumented immigrants.

She said the university simply responded to a "landslide of need" and was "not motivated by charity or politics but by its sense of mission" in accepting these students.

The school has helped many of the students with merit-based aid, she said, but school officials also know they will not get jobs in the U.S. when they graduate because of their illegal status.

Sister Diane similarly sees a "transforming movement" growing on college campuses as students speak out in support of immigration reform, particularly for the DREAM Act.

When a participant asked if schools were doing such students a disservice by accepting them while knowing they were not likely to get a job after graduating, Cardinal Mahony stressed that it was still the right thing to do.

He said the students will "still have a college degree and at some point they will be legal citizens." He said undocumented immigrants should not delay pursuing their education until they became citizens, because that might not happen for another 20 years.

In the closing session, conference speakers reminded the Catholic college and university leaders of their mission and broad challenges from working to engage the modern culture and promote respectful dialogue about differing viewpoints on their campuses to how to use, or even tame, ubiquitous technology.

In response to a question about use of social media, Father Tom Curran, a member of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales and president of Jesuit-run Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo., said he has no formula.

He said he advises students to be prudent, reminding them: "What you send (online) in a millisecond is out there forever."


{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/0210/mahony/{/gallery}