I moved into the fasting tent Wednesday morning, Day 16 of my Thanksgiving Fast4Families. I’m now able to drink only water. Committed to fast as long as my body holds out.
The rain Wednesday mixed with snow pelted the tent from all sides. Sometimes the whole tent even swayed in the wind. The fasters sat in their chairs, some having just arrived, a few having lived in the same chair for 16 days now.
We’ve had multiple visitors; a Spanish language television station, a former senator’s top aide who is also the father of one of the fasters, another television station, and a crew of photographers that took our picture for a Thanksgiving Tweet. All that before 2 p.m. on Wednesday.
But the best part has been the fellowship and the discipline of silence.
The debate about immigration reform has been very productive in America over these past several years. And that debate has been won — by those who favor a common sense agenda for reform.
Two out of every three Americans now favor fixing our broken immigration system — two out of three! According to a recent report by the Public Religion Research Institute, 65 percent of Americans say that the U.S. immigration system is either completely or mostly broken. That same report found that 63 percent of Americans favor immigration reform that creates a pathway to citizenship, crossing party and religious lines. 60 percent of Republicans, 57 percent of independents, and 73 percent of Democrats favor a pathway to citizenship.
However, a minority of lawmakers — almost all white legislators in artificially gerrymandered white Congressional districts — is blocking a democratic vote on immigration reform. The Senate has already passed a bipartisan bill to reform the immigration system; written and forged by an impressive coalition of Republican and Democratic Senate leaders. And if a similar bill was put to a vote in the House of Representatives, it would also pass.
Last week, I attended a screening of Documented, Jose Antonio Vargas’ film about his coming out as an undocumented immigrant after winning the Pulitzer Prize. His journey is honest, poignant, and humorous. A lesser subject would have cut some of the material showing the strain of the situation on his familial relations, but the film never flinches from the raw story.
I sat in on a panel discussion after the screening filled with members of an organization featured in the film, “DREAMers Moms.” I had a chance to speak with several of them, and one story stuck out in particular. One mom left her country for the good of her children so they would have hope of a positive future in the United States. She hasn’t seen her mother in 13 years and won’t until immigration reform is passed into law. If she leaves the U.S., it’s likely she wouldn’t be allowed to return and care for her children. This would leave them essentially orphans who would be placed into foster care. Her mother is now in her 80s, frail and sick. This woman is losing hope of ever again touching the woman who cared for her, but still prays daily for a miracle.
(Editors Note: This post continues updates from Lisa Sharon Harper, director of mobilizing for Sojourners, as she experiences the "Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform and Citizenship," taking place on the National Mall.)
Entering Day 13 of my #Fast4Families. Day 12 was holy ground for me — a crossroads. I woke up that morning sensing God's call to move back into the tent during Thanksgiving week and through Thanksgiving weekend. I did that for the first two days and it was hard on my body. When I left the tent and went back to work, I continued the fast by drinking homemade clear vegetable broth twice a day and fruit juice in the morning. That made it possible for me to continue the fast and still work.
But now, we're talking about Thanksgiving week. There's no need to worry about being able to work. Sojourners office will be pretty much closed from Wednesday through the weekend. I talked with one of the leading organizers of the #Fast4Families tent yesterday. I told her I'm considering moving into the tent for the week, but I'd need to be able to take V8 a couple of times a day. This was her response: "In order to maintain the integrity of the fast that we have run so far, we can only allow water only fasting while in the tent."
It was past 10 on a Sunday night in Spokane. The wedding was over and I was sitting in the hallway of the hotel in my pajamas reading my email by iPhone while my grandson slept in our dark room.
I saw an email from White House sent by a woman named Julie inviting me to meet that Wednesday with President Barack Obama and his senior staff "to discuss the moral urgency of passing immigration reform ... Please RSVP to me by no later than noon Monday ... "
This was a joke. Why would I get an invitation? I emailed friends in the Evangelical Immigration Table, and by Monday morning they confirmed it was real. How could I say no?
I found out later on Monday as we were flying home from Spokane that this meeting was to be a small gathering with the president, his senior staff and a handful of faith leaders in the Oval Office. I laughed out loud.
I live in community. What constitutes living in community means different things depending on whom you're talking to. To my 80-year-old grandmother it means that I have joined a cult. In reality, I live with my 10 fellow interns.
Together, we are all learning what it means to live and function as a cohort, how to pour the love of Christ into one another, and how to borrow strength from friends when we need it most. This includes sharing a home, sharing a budget, and sharing the last bit of ice cream that is left in the freezer.
A few nights ago during dinner sharp demands bounced from person to person. Many of our simple requests were stated as demands. Of course, when feeding 10 hungry people there is understandably a bit of an urgency to get food. But, there were no pleases and very few thank-yous.
Editor's Note: Thanks to pushback from students, the University president, and faculty in departments like the Latin American Studies department, the event was cancelled. There is still going to be a counter protest in solidarity with immigrants. Information can be found here.
The Young Conservatives of Texas is staging a mock immigration sting Wednesday on the University of Texas at Austin’s campus. According to YCT’s Facebook event, these are the rules of the game: “There will be several people walking around the UT campus with the label ‘illegal immigrant’ on their clothing. Any UT student who catches one of these ‘illegal immigrants’ and brings them back to our table will receive a $25 gift card.”
Lorenzo Garcia, the chairman of the campus chapter of YCT, has been reported as saying that he organized the event with the intention to “spark a campus-wide discussion about the issue of illegal immigration and how it affects our everyday lives.”
He has certainly succeeded in sparking a discussion, but he’s also highlighted the deep-seated prejudices at the root of much of the opposition to immigration reform. Rather than have a serious “discussion,” ignorance will be perpetuated.
The news that immigration reform may be dead—at least for this year—isn’t likely to sit well in many of America’s churches.
A new poll from Nashville-based LifeWay Research finds nearly six in 10 senior pastors of Protestant churches support immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.
Many of those pastors hope reform will help them minister to more Hispanic Americans. But few say the current immigration system hurts current members of their flocks.
The poll of 1,007 senior pastors of Protestant churches, conducted Sept. 4-19, comes as immigration reform has stalled on Capitol Hill.
Speaker of the House John Boehner signaled Wednesday that there would be no immigration reform this year, an announcement made the same day that some of the nation’s most prominent evangelical pastors met with President Barack Obama to try to advance the issue.
Only months ago, immigration reform seemed to enjoy strong bipartisan momentum.
It still does across the nation, said Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, one of the eight clergy invited to the Oval Office meeting.
“I urged the president not to make this a divisive issue, but to work with House Republicans,” said Moore. “We need to work together to fix the system rather than just scream at each other.”
The Obama administration, in a statement issued after the meeting, squarely blamed House Republicans for the impasse. The Democratic-led Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform plan in June.
Business leaders, law enforcement officials, and evangelical Christians—key constituencies that are typically part of the Republican base—have been at the forefront of immigration reform. Given the obvious benefits of, and broad public support for, immigration reform, why are many arch-conservatives in the House of Representatives refusing to address the issue in a serious way? The answer may point to an issue that we still hesitate to talk about directly: race.
Fixing our broken immigration system would grow our economy and reduce the deficit. It would establish a workable visa system that ensures enough workers with “status” to meet employers’ demands. It would end the painful practice of tearing families and communities apart through deportations and bring parents and children out of the shadows of danger and exploitation. And it would allow undocumented immigrants—some of whom even have children serving in the U.S. military—to have not “amnesty,” but a rigorous pathway toward earned citizenship that starts at the end of the line of applicants. Again, why is there such strident opposition when the vast majority of the country is now in favor of reform?
When I asked a Republican senator this question, he was surprisingly honest: “Fear,” he said. Fear of an American future that looks different from the present.
As an icy wind whipped the sides of a packed tent, five activists committed themselves Tuesday to fast from food and drink and to camp in front of the U.S. Capitol until Congress passes comprehensive immigration reform.
“I know that there are going to be difficult days ahead of me,” said Eliseo Medina from the Service Employees International Union. “I know that going without food will not be easy and I know that I will suffer physical hunger."
“But there is a deeper hunger within me, a hunger for an end to a system that creates such misery among those who come here to escape poverty and violence in search of the American dream.”
Religious and labor leaders joined immigration activists at the launch of the “Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform and Citizenship.” Many will participate as “solidarity fasters,” fasting for a shorter time.
In the contentious debate on immigration reform, undocumented immigrants are often the target of rhetorical attacks. Our political leaders fail to understand the contributions they make to our communities and economy. Too often their words deny the humanity and God-given dignity of our brothers and sisters.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) is perhaps the most notorious for inflammatory, misinformed attacks on immigrants. He has derogatorily compared them to “dogs” and recently claimed that DREAMers, young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, were drug runners with “calves the size of cantaloupes.” For far too long statements such as these have been tolerated in our society, as we have accepted the demonization of people out of racial fear and for the sake of political gain.
Sojourners has released a powerful video telling the story of Pastor Juan Luis Barco, an undocumented minister following God’s call and faithfully serving a congregation. We especially want elected officials like Rep. King and those who share his views to hear this message, so we launched the video as a TV ad running across his district.
(Editors Note: On Nov. 12, faith, immigrant rights, and labor leaders launched the “Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform and Citizenship,” taking place on the National Mall. The following remarks are from Jim's speech given at the event.)
Despite the overwhelming public support — among all political stripes — to fix our broken immigration system, Washington's utter political dysfunction is blocking change.
It is time to pray and fast for a change that now feels like a "miracle." And that's what we now pray for. Pray against the racial fears and messages that are being used against immigration reform. Pray for courage and character on all sides — for Republicans who believe in an inclusive party and nation to stand up to Republicans who want an exclusive party and nation and for Democrats not to use this as a political issue for their self-interest. Pray for political leaders to do what few of them do well — to put other people's needs, especially poor and vulnerable people's needs, ahead of their own political agendas.
(Editors Note: Faith, immigrant rights, and labor leaders launched the "Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform and Citizenship," Nov. 12, taking place on the National Mall. Leaders and immigrant members of the community are fasting every day and night, abstaining from all food — except water — to move the hearts of members of Congress to pass immigration reform with a path to citizenship. This post is composed of updates from Lisa Sharon Harper, director of mobilizing for Sojourners, as she experiences the fast.)
Eleven national leaders marked this as the first day of a 30-day rolling fast for families — a call for immigration reform and a path to citizenship. The fasters and other leaders of the civil rights movement, including Julian Bond (civil rights veteran), Rev. Jim Wallis (Sojourners) and Wade Henderson (Leadership Conference on Civil Rights), walked into that tent and behind the podium.
One after another, the fasters stood before the podium — Sister Simone Campbell, Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, Eliseo Medina, Dae Joong Yoon—and offered testimony. This is why we are fasting. We are fasting because we cannot wait any longer. We are fasting because we stand with the 11 million people and their families who cannot wait for congress to get itself together for the pain and suffering in their families to end. We are fasting because whether we are immigrants who came here voluntarily in the last century or our ancestors were brought here in chains 200 years ago, we are fasting America a better place for all.
In a recent USA Today article, reporter Alan Gomez highlights the broad support for immigration reform including among the evangelical faith community.
“About 300 conservatives from around the country and with varying backgrounds — pastors, farmers, police chiefs, business owners — will arrive in Washington on Oct. 28 to meet with Republican lawmakers and make a conservative pitch for a new immigration law,” he wrote.
While Gomez’s piece effectively captures the strong support for immigration reform among evangelical leaders, among others, it also quotes Roy Beck, executive director of the population-control group NumbersUSA, who says these leaders “don’t represent the evangelical rank and file.”
Polls and recent grassroots activity show otherwise.
On Oct. 11, I spent the morning under the front wheel of a bus filled with shackled immigrants. I joined this action with other community members to stop the two Homeland Security buses (operated by private contractor Wackenhut) from making it to the Operation Streamline proceedings at the Tucson federal courthouse. The buses were held and the front gate of the courthouse blocked for more than four hours, and Operation Streamline was ultimately cancelled for the day.
As my arms were locked around the wheels of the bus, I felt baptized into a deeper spirit of solidarity than I have ever known. Every one of the more than 70 immigrants on board those buses was shackled around their wrists and ankles. They were treated as if they were the biggest threats imaginable to our national security. During the action, the immigrants on the buses lifted their chains up to be seen through the darkened windows, and some of them put their palms together in front of their faces in a gesture of prayer and recognition of the meaning of the action. Other protestors at the scene had made signs in Spanish to communicate with the immigrants, with messages of: "Your struggle is our struggle;" "We are here defending your rights;" "You are not alone;" "We are with you, keep fighting;" "To desire a better life is not a crime."
“I didn't come here because I wanted a job ... I came here because I wanted to live.” These words from an undocumented immigrant came early on in Church World Service's Summit on Immigration Reform in Washington, D.C. They could have easily been the words of Mary, mother of Jesus, as they fled to Egypt during his childhood.
“We just wanted to live.”
The reality is, as Christians, our tradition, our faith, our roots, are all tied up in an immigrant identity – or at least they should be. Reaching as far back as Adam and Eve, and Abraham and Sarah, we are a people who are on the move. We are typically found in places other than where we began. Even parts of the texts we use to guide us on our journey to/toward/with God were put together as the Israelites were living in a foreign land.
As Christians, we must recognize that we are truly a people with immigrant roots which reach all the way back to our Jewish spiritual ancestors. In that recognition, we need to learn to fully embrace the call of Deuteronomy to show hospitality to sojourners. It's a call that is about so much more than being welcoming and offering drink and food (although it does include those). The “hospitality” we are called to is one of seeing someone whom we may identify as “other” and loving them.
I'd make the argument that in his teachings, Jesus takes that concept a step further and tells us we shouldn't see them as other, we should see them as yet another image of God – another opportunity, another invitation, to not only share God's love but to know it more fully.
Strange but beautiful things happen when we begin to identify with people who are culturally different. A few years ago, I became friends with Peter, a guy at my church who also happened to be an undocumented immigrant. One day over lunch, he shared that his mother (whom he hadn’t seen in 15+ years) had recently been diagnosed with a terminal disease. He desperately wanted to visit her, but due to his immigration status, he knew that if he left the U.S. he wouldn’t be allowed to return. Given his obligations to his family in the U.S., Peter made the heart-breaking decision to not to visit his dying mom.
As a U.S. citizen, I hadn’t personally experienced the trials of being undocumented or felt the frustration of geographic immobility while a loved one approached death in a far off land. But throughout my friendship with Peter — getting to know his family in the U.S., listening to him share about the harrowing challenges he experienced on a daily basis, and seeing photographs of his life and family in his home country — I got a glimpse of the world from his perspective. In many ways, Peter’s life was marked by sorrow and loss – and that was more evident than ever during our lunch conversation that day.
Evangelicals around the country are praying for Congress to bring fair and just immigration reform to a vote. Often, advocates within the Christian community voice concern for the “least of these” — the unauthorized immigrants who are living in the shadows. But churches shouldn’t view Congress’ critical immigration decision as simply a matter of compassion for the “other;” immigration might be the lifeline that American Christianity needs.
Much has been written about the way that growing numbers of “millennials” are walking away from the church. The music, programming, and even vocabulary of many Christian churches seems aimed at solving the puzzle of how to keep young people interested in faith and keep them sitting in the pews. Yet while it seems millennials are walking out the front door of U.S. congregations, another group is knocking at the back door: immigrant Christians.
As Congress makes a final attempt this fall to act on comprehensive immigration reform, the debate is focusing on “securing” our borders and offering a path to citizenship to the 11 million residents here without proper documentation. These politicized arguments, however, don’t see the forest for the trees.
We’re not viewing the broader impact that immigration has had on American society, especially since the last major immigration reform of the 1960s. In particular, we’re missing the way immigration is transforming the religious life of North America.
We commonly view immigration as introducing large numbers of non-Christian religions into U.S. society. True, because of immigration in the last half century, America has become the most religiously diverse country in the world, with thousands of mosques and temples dotting our religious landscape.