In early December, I had the honor and pleasure of lobbying with ECCO. That’s an abbreviated way of saying that I flew to Washington, DC with three other members of the Essex County Community Organization (ECCO) and two United Interfaith Action (UIA) representatives in order to urge Massachusetts legislators to support the path to citizenship for immigrants. ECCO is part of the largest faith-based organization in our country; other groups from around the country were in DC, as well, including folks from New Hampshire, Arizona, and California.
Of the other five members of our contingent, I knew only one, Reverend Elizabeth. The other four are immigrants: Oscar and Dinorah of ECCO; and Roselia and Maria of UIA. We met early Monday evening during travel to or arriving at our hotel, the Holiday Inn Capitol, convenient to locations where we would be lobbying, under the banner La Red, our organizer’s name. (I have no idea the significance of that name.)
During and after that first dinner, when we each settled around a ‘state’ table with our new compatriots, we shared in a meeting intended to clarify our intentions, our goals, and our methods. The overall plan was to hold an eight-hour vigil on Tuesday, visit our legislators on Wednesday, then return home on Thursday. You’ve probably heard the expression, ‘The devil is in the details?’ Well, yes, the devil was definitely in the details.
For Tuesday, the plan was for each state group to meet in the morning, continue to make legislative appointments (which we had begun the previous week) and develop roles and messages for each person to use during the visits. If you’ve ever worked in any organizational or development capacity, just imagine this: six people just meeting, with different communication styles, from multiple cultures, no designated leader, establishing relative roles in pursuit of a shared goal — a change in US legislation regarding immigrant status. Two hours were allowed for this planning meeting.
This was seemingly impossible, but we did it! I felt so proud as I watched each person extend him- or herself, offering possibilities for sharing the responsibility, while including each person’s strength and skill, risking ego with humility. Among the roles were maneuvering between appointment locations (because the Capitol locations were spread out over large blocks), time-keeping (because we had five appointments from 11:00 am – 3:30 pm, with lunch somewhere), offering a centering prayer, personal stories (from two immigrants), facilitating (managing introductions and introducing each presenter), asking for the legislator’s support, and taking a group picture.
Maria offered to facilitate, suggesting other roles for each of us. Each person completely rose to the challenge, stretching as needed to practice and modify when constructive criticism was offered. It was only hindsight that allowed me to see the challenge that we met in accomplishing this! I felt honored to be asked to provide the centering prayer. As a Quaker, instead of a word-prayer, I invited each legislator to join us in listening to Divine Presence during a moment of silence. Each meeting was in a different location, including offices, one zoom call, and a noisy cafeteria. Nevertheless, each time, the silent moment resulted in a deep, powerful shared presence.
Similarly, when Roselia and Dinorah shared personal stories of how they and their families have been affected in the myriad ways that lack of citizenship imposes, I was reminded of how much I take for granted, including simply having a library card. I was also reminded of the enormous burden lifted by the recent change in Massachusetts law, which now allows an undocumented immigrant to obtain a driver’s license, increasing overall road safety for everyone and making it easier for an immigrant to secure a good-paying job or take a child to a doctor’s appointment.
Being from Massachusetts and knowing our legislators, we expected their support. Perhaps what we did not expect was the consistent message we heard in response. We met with staff from the offices of Senator Warren, and Representatives Moulton, McGovern, Trajan, and Clark. We repeatedly heard about their support for a DACA path to citizenship for the two million ‘dreamers,’ those immigrants who came to the US as children and have grown up here, been educated, and now work and pay taxes here. Despite the fact that they have not known any other country, they are not US citizens. They deserve to be!
Each Senator’s and Representatives’ staff who we met assured us that they fully supported this; however, the challenge they described was reaching agreement with their Republican counterparts, who would only pass a bill that includes elements undesirable to us, such as criminalization or limitations on other possible paths, such as extending citizenship to other relatives. With each visit, it became more clear to us the challenge that our representatives and senators have in reaching this compromise. Now, the hours of this year’s congress are dwindling as the final deals are reached — or not.
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