In the fall of 2006 I saw Alfonso, one of my favorite young middle school students, walking around our neighborhood as I drove to the office. It was mid-day, and it was unusual for him to be out of school and on the streets as he was a good kid. I pulled over and hollered at him, "Why aren't you in school?" Well, he had been suspended. I told him to get in the car.
We hung out the rest of the day; we prepped for youth group the next night, buying food at Costco and making calls at the office. We walked over to my apartment talking about life and how to avoid suspension from school in the future. Talk turned to immigration and his status. I told him I was committed to giving whatever it took to fixing our broken immigration system, for however long it took, so his family and others we cared about could dream of a bright future. I asked him if he was open to working with me; still uncomfortable with sharing his status with others, he said he'd like to think more about it.
I had forgotten about this story until he reminded me of it yesterday as we boarded a plane together to see President Barack Obama speak about immigration in Las Vegas. It was his first plane flight. He's one of my best friends now and well on his way towards a college degree. He's a fabulous organizer and is showing me how to get immigrant youth to truly own this movement of God's justice. Telling his story is a common practice. He was even featured on the cover of Christianity Today last September. He recently received a birth certificate from Mexico, which was a giant journey, struggle, and miracle allowing us to send in his DACA application. And yesterday we shook the president's hand, together witnessing a milestone in a movement we have both been privileged to take part.
But our work is not over; key leaders in the Senate have spoken, and their policy starting point encourages us. The president's proposals are not far off from those presented by the Senators. Hope is the message of the day. A roadmap to citizenship for 11 million aspiring Americans is within reach.
Alfonso and I, along with many other leaders at Neighborhood Ministries, are more ready this time than we have been in the past 9 years we have worked for immigration reform. We have plans to read Scripture with our congregation every day for the next 40 days, along with many others around the country; we plan to register many new voters, and after they register, ask them to call their senators in support of citizenship. We have student teams already organizing, and Alfonso and others can mobilize and organize student leaders better than anyone I know. We are ready and we are hopeful.
It was cool to shake President Obama's hand and to be in the room with so many important leaders, but sitting next to my great friend Alfonso was the best seat in the house.
Ian Danley is a youth pastor with Neighborhood Ministries in Phoenix, Ariz and is on the Governing Board of the Phoenix Union High School District.