On October 1st, I woke up to go to work at Church World Service, where I had been interning for 10 months, with horrible anxiety. This was the first day of the government shutdown- something that had not happened since I was 7 years-old, and something that few believed would actually happen this year.
As an intern advocating for the rights of refugees and immigrants, this government shut down affected my work tremendously. Not only had I personally been working for months to help pass fair and compassionate immigration reform (keep in mind that many advocates have been working for their whole lives for immigration reform) but I had also been planning the CWS Global Summit where we would bring over 250 faith leaders to Washington to speak to their congressional representatives. You see, the House of Representatives is the last piece of the immigration reform puzzle. The Senate passed a comprehensive bill that we support, but we were still struggling to see compassionate reform move through the House. In addition, Representatives need to hear from their constituents that immigration reform is important to them.
After I arrived at the office, the panic started to dissipate as we began to make a plan for how we would handle the Global Summit (scheduled for the following week) if the government shutdown was still in effect. As you know, the shutdown did continue. Despite this fact, the Congressional visits that occurred during the Global Summit were more meaningful than we had expected. Because of the skeleton staffs at all offices, the faith leaders who attended often had the opportunity to share their views with higher level staff persons or the members themselves. In addition, because government officials were feeling such discontent from the American people because of their role in the shutdown, many seemed more receptive to conversation about positive legislation that would help so many individuals.
This experience planning the Global Summit was just one of many challenging projects that I was a part of during my time at CWS. When I initially started working at CWS, I did not have a clear goal in mind for what I wanted to get out of the experience. I thought I would learn a bit about policy making and perhaps sit in on a hearing here and there.
However, my experience was so much deeper than that. Because of my work researching legislation and helping my boss, Jen Smyers, prepare for meetings with individuals who would eventually vote to either pass or stall immigration reform, I felt empowered that I was genuinely contributing to this important movement.
Social movements led or assisted by faith groups have historically been incredibly effective. The civil rights movement, for instance, was born and bred in churches. This is often because sweeping movements like this require unbelievable devotion, and people of faith have their religions to keep them motivated and assured even as they endure the struggles and slow-moving progress of advancing legislation. Furthermore, organizing within churches is very effective since there already exists a group of people together, supporting one another. Finally, faith can be a pathway to connecting with other people, like the Representatives who advocates meet with regularly.
Through my time at CWS, I had the great reward of seeing this movement propelled by the faith community. This reward, however, is not without its challenges. Despite the strong voices speaking out for immigration reform, we are currently dealing with one of the most stubborn House of Representatives in history. That is not to say that all members of the House are adversarial, but rather a small portion who have allowed extremist ideologies to lead out government into dysfunction.
For this reason, it is key that we continue our push for compassionate immigration reform that protects and betters the lives of all migrant communities. You see, after the government shutdown in 1995, opinion of the government was incredibly low, but that was the point where the government stepped up to make meaningful reforms and get back into the good graces of the American people. Because immigration reform has bipartisan support, this could be the issue that the Government uses to get back in the favor of the public.
We just need to be sure that our voices are heard and elevated to revive immigration reform as an issue that has moral urgency and electoral consequences.
In returning to my CWS experience, I hope that what I have gained has become clear to you – it’s passion. I feel invigorated by the individuals who I have had the opportunity to learn from and work with. I feel compelled by this movement of faith. And I feel a true calling to work for vulnerable populations. I want to especially thank my supervisor Jen Smyers who trusted me to produce important and independent work and who showed me by example how to lead by creating meaningful connections to others. With this deep experience under my belt, I hope to continue working with faith organizations to meaningfully propel justice-based causes alongside individuals and groups who are suffering.