For the past 19 years I’ve worked and lived in inner city East Dallas among very poor individuals and families. CitySquare, the faith-based non-profit that I lead, last year served more than 50,000 different individuals. We work hand-in-hand with low-income people to see life improved and turned toward real, lasting, legitimate opportunity. Our day-to-day work involves hunger relief and nutrition improvement, health care delivery, wellness programs, legal services, housing options, workforce training and job placement, public policy initiatives, and community organizing. It has been in this dynamic context that we’ve become very involved in advocating for comprehensive immigration reform.
Over half of our friends and neighbors who come through our doors seeking a better life are undocumented residents. Since our entire approach to the community is based on building strong, personal connections and relationships across and beyond the typical barriers of income, gender, race, and religion, we’ve become very aware of the plight, the needs, and the rights of our immigrant friends. Tens of thousands of residents of the Dallas metro area need the relief that comprehensive immigration reform promises.
We started with the children.
Since 1994, we’ve been working with immigrant families and their children. Our summer and after school youth programs put us in close touch with these wonderful neighbors. As we’ve watched the children of immigrant families grow up before our eyes, we’ve become very involved in support of and promotion of the DREAM Act, going so far as to travel to the nation’s capital to meet with our senators the last time the DREAM Act was considered by that body of leaders.
So far, we’ve been deterred in our efforts, but we’ve never stopped our work or our believing that passage of this legislation would be the best thing, not only for the innocent children of immigrants brought to this country while still minors, but also for our nation’s future and prosperity.
Our actions have been simple but unrelenting, and include:
- Lobbying our congressional representatives directly by email, snail mail, telephone and personal visits, both in Washington and in local offices.
- Advocating continually via social media, including Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc.
- Hosting policy motion picture documentary screening for hundreds of interested supporters.
- Preaching a message of welcoming the strangers as a part of our work in the community. It has been interesting to address churches, civic clubs, foundations and other funding sources about our commitment to stand with the strangers who we feel it our duty to simply welcome in the spirit of Jesus.
- Finding meaningful, authentic ways to stand with and literally be with our undocumented neighbors.
A few years ago, I stood in the home of one of our staff members as we welcomed home
two teenagers who had been picked up without proper documents by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and imprisoned 200 miles from home in a for-profit, regional jail here in Texas. We worked hard with the support of a former board member to “bail out” our young friends from a truly horrifying situation that ran on for several days. As we stood, hand-in-hand in the living room of that home, with a now united family who were precious friends to us, I realized the presence of the Kingdom of God. There we were, black, brown, and white, one people united in concern for two precious children who simply sought a better life, as did their hard working immigrant parents.
We will not turn back in our commitment to welcome the stranger, not only to our nation, but even more, into our lives, our families and our hearts.
Larry James is CEO of CitySquare in Dallas. Learn more HERE.