Once again, the push for immigration reform is defying conventional wisdom. With so many twists and turns in Washington over the past few weeks, the future is beginning to look hopeful again that the House will take up immigration reform soon.
When the government shut down on October 1, immigration advocates started to see prospects dwindle for reform, due to intense partisan division on the budget and thus a shrinking timeline for a bill to move. But now that the government has reopened, we're seeing a growing list of politicians from both sides of the aisle proclaim that immigration reform is up next on the agenda.
After allowing gridlock to halt government operations, putting millions of Americans out of work, this Congress is now realizing they need to prove to the country that they can work together to get something positive accomplished. Working on a longer-term budget deal will be imperative, but this congress has to come together in a big way to make policy improvements that people can witness in their daily lives.
Over 1.5 million people have been deported in the last five years, and more than 1,100 continue to be deported each day. Our communities and congregations are in dire need of concrete progress that will keep families united and stop community members from fearing deportation at every turn. Immigration reform should be the front-runner issue that congress should tackle now that they're back in session.
Earlier this month, CWS held a powerful event to put immigration reform back on the congressional agenda. The CWS Global Summit on Immigration Reform brought together nearly 300 faith leaders, immigrants and refugees from across the country, including top leaders of Christian denominations. We prayed together, broke bread together, heard of the suffering brought by our immigration system and also the hope found in community organizing against deportations, raids, detention and exploitation. We strategized within our denominations and committed to deeper, continued action to educate our members of Congress and ensure that they know we will hold them accountable for progress versus partisanship when it comes to immigration reform.
Leading up to the Global Summit more than 10,000 people of faith across the country committed to 40 days of prayer and fasting for immigration reform. In coordinated opposition to the so-called SAFE Act, religious organizations sent a letter to the House of Representatives every day last month, bemoaning this bill that would encourage racial profiling, reduce community safety, negatively impact refugees and asylees, and criminalize faith communities that provide assistance to individuals regardless of immigration status. The "SAFE Act" is not safe, and it is not the reform we need - it takes us in the opposite direction of where we should be going.
Members of Congress know that people of faith support reform that will reunite families, protect vulnerable populations and create a path to citizenship. Even if Congress doesn’t act this Fall, the movement for immigrants rights will continue into the New Year. We have a long way to go, but we have proven we can nourish each other along the journey to justice. We must continue to strongly push for reform, and to never give up until we realize the reform so desperately needed by our communities.
As we continue to pray, fast and advocate for immigration reform, we must begin to consider how we can escalate, diversity and strengthen our tactics. We have been calling for immigration reform for years now, and the movement has been strengthened by people of faith. Let us continue to strengthen this movement, and to work with our communities and people who are directly impacted to more powerfully push for full inclusion of our immigrant brothers and sisters.
What can your congregation or coalition do to build a stronger movement for immigrants’ rights? By building a team in your community and/or congregation, you can map out your strategy and plan together how to move forward on immigrants' rights. We must be persistent with writing letters, calling our members of Congress, meeting with members in their local district offices, and utilizing our local newspapers as well as social media to make the case for immigration reform.
We are at an escalation point in the campaign for immigration reform where prophetic witness is imperative. CWS and the Interfaith Immigration Coalition have some helpful resources to get you started at www.interfaithimmigration.org/resources/toolkits. That's how we grow the movement, and how we win.
Jen Smyers, Associate Director for Immigration and Refugee Policy, CWS