Iniso Affiah is Associate for Project Outreach. He recently spent several days with ELCA bishops and state public policy office directors during their visit to Capitol Hill. He shares his reflections with us below.
It was a tumultuous week in Washington D.C. when certain bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Immigration Ready Bench, who are known supporters of immigration reform, took part in meetings on Capitol Hill accompanied by LIRS. There were mixed feelings of hope, anxiety, concern and disappointment.
I had the opportunity to attend many of these meetings with the bishops and sensed tenseness in the air: the Congressional staffers were nervous about saying the right things to everyone and the bishops were nervous about making sure they stated everything they had planned to. Being my first time on Capitol Hill, I was nervous as well. I struggled to decipher between sincerity and propaganda, to understand if they were truly listening or simply appeasing their visitors.
The consensus in most of these meetings with House and the Senate staffers was that while they wanted to do more, during an election year, a topic as divisive as comprehensive immigration reform was not one many felt comfortable tackling. From what I could tell, this is where the issue lies. In order to truly bring about change, members of Congress need to make more moral decisions rather than purely political ones. One Senator expressed remorse for not voting for the DREAM Act in 2007 but chose to vote for the latest version of the legislation after being inspired to action by hearing a refugee’s story. If anything, the Senator’s change of heart gives me hope that by hearing from migrant and faith communities, more of our leaders will eventually do the right thing and not only the political thing.
After some handshakes and photos, I felt more at ease. I was proud to have my opinions heard by powerful members of government and proud to have the opportunity to hear them respond as candidly as they did. Then a sense of frustration hit me: I understood that nothing about our broken immigration system, for the moment, had changed. These issues we had discussed will not go away and the fight for comprehensive immigration reform will likely continue for years to come.
However, the visit to the Hill seemed to be successful for the bishops. During a debriefing, they expressed that communication with the Senators was better than last year and that the staffers and Senators seemed more willing to listen. This reminded me that if people have the courage to speak up, sometimes they’ll find someone to listen. If people are open enough to truly listen, sometimes someone will care. And if people care, they might just act. This is the process that I hope never stops.