Maria Hinojosa, the Emmy-winning broadcast journalist for NPR and CNN, has an image of the America she longs to see and she shared it with delegates and visitors to General Synod 2013 at the Long Beach Convention Center on Saturday morning, June 29.
"I was in New York on 911, working for CNN, and we found a woman named Julia who had lost her husband who happened to be undocumented and we put it out there," she said. "Then in December I got a phone call from a guy in Maine with a southern accent."
It turns out that A.J., a gay hairdresser (who'd been raised in South Carolina), heard her story and decided to raise money for Julia. He wanted to come to New York and meet Julia and give her the money. Hinojosa met him at the airport with a video team and did a story on the two. "Julia was blown away. She'd never met a gay man she didn't work for."
The next summer Hinojosa heard from A.J. again. He and his partner Rudy wanted to bring Julia and her children to spend a week on Rudy's farm. Maria and her video team were welcome as well.
"I have this picture in my mind. There's A.J. in his American flag T-shirt and Rudy in his overalls with their arms around Julia and me. This is the America we have the capacity to create."
But most of time, Hinojosa finds a different America in her work to "make the invisible visible and give voice to the voiceless. I usually find the saddest most disenfranchised people and tell their stories."
Hinojosa was born in Mexico, the daughter of a prominent doctor who came to the University of Chicago to do research on cochlear implants. Now a U.S. citizen, she experienced the "invisibility" of immigrants first-hand.
She told the story of making a documentary on a criminal immigration bust for Frontline. She and her news team showed up at 6 a.m. at a house in the East L.A. barrio. "We'd been told that this was a hardened criminal, and we were preparing for the possibility of violence. The agents are wearing uniforms that say ‘Police' even though they're Immigration.
The bust ended with the arrest of a 60-year-old gardener. "Are we safer once the grandfather was deported? I think we think we are. They are criminals so they are lesser than me. The truth is: They are not."
Hinojosa detailed the denial of due process that immigration detainees face, starting with no limit on the length of time they can be held without being charged or assigned an attorney. Many of the detention centers, she said, are privately run and administrators are not required to meet any standards of care.
"A completely different set of laws applies to detainees. We have the power to speak up and say, Wait a minute! This is not who we are." she said. "Our government, with our tax dollars, in our time, on our dime."
She despises the use of the term "illegal immigrant." "I once met Elie Wiesel, and he said there's no such thing as an illegal human being. That's how the Holocaust began. They made the Jews illegal, and then they came for them."
Hinojosa doesn't hold out any hope for the current state of immigration reform working its way through Congress. "The bill the Senate passed this week offers citizenship in maybe 15 years, and it doesn't even address the deportation of 400,000 people a year. Of course, the House has already said it won't even look at the Senate version."
"(Deportees) are the new face of the Civil Rights Movement," she said, in urging the Synod-goers to tackle this injustice with the same fervor that the UCC has brought to the Wilmington 10 and the grape boycott.
"See yourselves in the people most unlike you. See yourselves in the dreamers who have left their home countries and come here. You have the power to help."