We Must Act Now and Continue to Advocate for Immigration Reform

Jen Smyers | November 20, 2013

Fast for Families advocates meet at Rep. John Boehner's office together with Michael Livingston from Interfaith Worker Justice. Photo: Jen Smyers/CWS

Fast for Families advocates meet at Rep. John Boehner’s office together with Michael Livingston from Interfaith Worker Justice. Photo: Jen Smyers/CWS

The movement for immigration reform continues to grow stronger by the day. The general public supports a path to citizenship, and we know that we have enough votes in the House of Representatives to enact an immigration reform bill. However, as the 2013 congressional calendar dwindles it has become increasingly clear that House Speaker Boehner (OH-8) is choosing to not bring up an immigration bill for a vote, even as more than 1,100 people are deported each day. While we continue to advocate for the Speaker to put a bill up for a vote, political challenges appear to be pushing the struggle for immigration reform into 2014.

Right now, it is important to note that the 113th congress continues into 2014. The Senate immigration bill, S.744, will still be in cue to go to conference with any immigration legislation the House might pass. There is bi-partisan support for immigration reform, including more than 29 House Republicans publicly supporting a path to citizenship, and 190 Representatives, including three Republicans co-sponsoring H.R. 15, the House’s version of the Senate’s immigration bill. However, House leadership just last week declared publicly that the House will not bring a House bill to conference with the Senate’s legislation.

While many, including myself, are beyond disappointed by this stubborn unwillingness to govern, we cannot allow the inaction of those in power to frustrate or weaken the movement for immigrants’ rights. The struggle for equality and justice is always difficult, lengthy and ongoing. Each step that we have gained in immigrants’ rights has been hard earned and has had to be defended rigorously. Even with all of the energy and promises coming into 2013, we knew this would be a long and difficult fight.

What this year has taught us is that we need to escalate the pressure with which we hold our politicians accountable. This year, more policy makers than ever publicly claimed that they support immigration reform. This happened because immigrants’ rights groups, people of faith, and other allies met with them and took action to convey the broad support for a path to citizenship. We are so close to victory, but we must continue to recruit and mobilize more people willing to escalate and put more pressure on our decision makers. Without real policy changes that will improve the lives of our immigrant community members, we will continue to push directly for leadership and moral courage.

We must continue to meet with legislators, host prayer vigils and creative actions, and we must increase civic engagement work to ensure politicians know that voters care about solutions. Not just immigrant voters, but voters who are in community with immigrants – people of faith, service providers, educators, business people, law enforcement, etc – will vote against those who block progress on immigrants’ rights and will work to elect individuals who are working together to move this country forward.

This week, CWS will be honoring three individuals with the second annual John Backer Award: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg; former director of The Border Consortium, Jack Dunford; and Ambassador of Jordan to the United Nations, H.R.H. Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. John Backer dedicated 60 years of his life to working with CWS assisting tens of thousands of refugees from Hungary, Cuba, Indochina and many other countries to resettle in the United States. When he passed away in December of 2011, he was still dedicating nearly a full work week to CWS. As we honor John Backer this week, I’m inspired by his tireless dedication. He did not allow his work to be deterred by political cowardice or slow progress toward change, and neither should we.

We will continue to raise the urgent need for immigration reform. This week, CWS and partners will continue to fast, pray and demonstrate for reform on the National Mall, steps away from the Capitol as part of the Fast4Families campaign. This continues the work of more than 10,000 people who prayed, fasted and advocated for immigrants’ rights for 40 days as part of FAST Action for Immigration Reform, as well as the CWS Summit on Immigration Reform which brought 300 immigrants and faith leaders to DC to advocate for immigration reform. While legislation may not pass this year, it is essential for us to continue to lift up our voices through the end of the year, and to reinvigorate our efforts in early 2014. We must continue to organize and act, so our members know we are not going away, and that we will continue to hold them accountable to real solutions.

Join us in this work. Wherever you are, you have a part to play in winning immigration reform and realizing justice for all our community members, immigrants and citizens alike. Sign up for CWS Speak Out Alerts. Be in touch with Rev. Noel Andersen and with me, Jen Smyers, about how you can get your community more engaged in urging your local and national politicians to make a difference in advancing immigrants’ rights. We’ll be continuing our work beyond this year, and even beyond immigration reform. The movement is stronger than ever before, and we will build on our momentum to realize immigrants’ rights through continued action.

Jen Smyers, Associate Director for Immigration and Refugee Policy, CWS