On Dec. 12, Congress wrapped up the 2013 legislative year without passing comprehensive immigration reform, leaving the Senate's bipartisan proposal hanging in the balance. But before lawmakers left Washington, D.C., United Church of Christ immigration reform advocates took part in one last effort to remind our representatives that immigration reform is not about politics, it's about people. On the Day of Prayer and Promise, activists visited the offices of more than 200 members of Congress to solidify the pledge that they will be back in 2014 to continue what they started this year, stronger and more unified than ever before.
"It was remarkable," said the Rev. Mari Castellanos, the UCC's minister for domestic issues in its Washington, D.C., office. "It was like a peaceful, prayerful takeover of the Congress. It was quite impressive."
Immigration reform was a hot-button issue in 2013. In January, a group of eight bipartisan senators introduced a plan that would offer a pathway to citizenship for the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants, which was supported by President Barack Obama. The Senate passed a bill in June, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) refused to bring the bill to a vote in the House, even though supporters say the bill has enough votes to pass. This type of political posturing has some immigration advocates, like the Rev. Linda Jaramillo, the UCC's executive minister for Justice and Witness Ministries, worried that comprehensive reform may not become a reality, despite the progress that has been made.
"What we have wanted and have been advocating for for a long time is comprehensive immigration reform," said Jaramillo. "The more we look at it, that may not be an achievable goal, but we're still pushing for it."
The UCC has a long history of affirming the dignity of immigrants and working for comprehensive U.S. immigration policy, and advocates approached the issue with more urgency, optimism and collaboration in 2013. The denomination introduced its Collaborative on Immigration, a group of about 25 UCC pastors, executives and partners throughout the country who have combined their time, passion and expertise to help make comprehensive immigration reform a reality.
One of the group's early initiatives was drafting and submitting a resolution for General Synod 2013, which took place June 28-July 2 in Long Beach, Calif., calling for Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship. The resolution had 97 percent approval out of 801 votes. Also at General Synod 2013, about 200 advocates for immigration reform marched through downtown Long Beach, holding signs and singing songs of change. The group made stops outside of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the office of Congressman Alan Lowenthal, and Long Beach City Hall, as members of the media documented the activity.
"Even though we were not successful in moving comprehensive legislation past the Senate vote, important ground work was laid in the education about immigration reform and the organizing of the framework to move forward," said Sandy Sorenson, director of the UCC's Washington, D.C., office. "The perseverance, energy, passion and resolve of advocates for comprehensive immigration reform are unchanged and unwavering, and it's really pushed the public dialogue forward on this issue. It has attached faces and names and stories to this debate so that it became more than a debate about an issue, it became a debate about lives and communities."
Sorenson said at this time is it unclear what the timeframe will be for passing immigration reform in 2014, and that midterm congressional elections could create a variable that makes the timing even harder to predict. But everything the UCC has done this year has only set the stage for advocates to pick up where they left off when they continue the fight for fairness in the new year.
"There are many parts of immigration reform that are very important," Jaramillo said. "We will continue to advocate for children and families – family unity, family fairness – as well as for a pathway to citizenship."