Last Friday I had the privilege of meeting with President Barack Obama.
I was invited to the White House as part of a small group of Asian American-Pacific Islander (AAPI) business, community, and religious leaders. The meeting coincided with the beginning of AAPI Heritage month, an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the contributions of AAPI people to our nation.
The President had called the meeting to discuss the importance of passing comprehensive immigration reform. He and members of the White House Senior Staff noted that the legislation that had passed the Senate last year would be the most significant legislation that the House could pass in the next few months to revitalize the economy, rejuvenate the workforce, and strengthen the solvency of the Social Security Fund.
The President was clear-cut and forthright with us. He said, “Immigration reform is my highest priority”. He noted that the political landscape around immigration had significantly shifted in the last few weeks. Several Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), had come out publicly in favor of immigration reform and there being potential Republican votes in the House on individual immigration reform bills. The President sought our help for what he described as a “two month sprint” to pass immigration reform in the House of Representatives.
We also heard from the President about providing administrative relief from the ongoing impact of detention and deportation that are tearing families apart. His staff shared that a review of immigration enforcement policies was underway in the Department of Homeland Security.
When I got a turn to speak, I thanked the President for his strong commitment to immigration reform and said we’re ready. I shared that Unitarian Universalists have been working with other progressive, interfaith, and immigrant justice partners for many years for comprehensive immigration reform; that Standing on the Side of Love’s “have a heart” and “keeping families together” messages have been very effective in mobilizing people to call or write to their representatives in Congress; and that we continue to be deeply committed to working to put pressure on House Republican members to support comprehensive immigration reform. I also shared that families need relief now and that we are supporting their request for executive action.
I came away from the meeting deeply moved by the President’s strong and genuine commitment to fixing the broken immigration system through legislative action in the next couple of months. And I was inspired by the group’s enthusiasm to work with the President and his senior staff to help make it happen.
So, what can we do?
We can work in local communities to reach out to members of the Asian American, Pacific Islander, Latino/a, Arab American, African, East European communities and allies who have a stake in fixing the broken immigration system. We could make in-district advocacy visits and calls to their House representatives and put pressure on them to support HR 15.
If we do these things, and do them well, we have a really good chance of not only winning on immigration reform, but also energizing immigrant communities to continue working together on issues of mutual concern regardless of what happens in Congress this summer.
Our current immigration system, instead of welcoming the stranger, leaves families living in fear of deportation, prevents young people from achieving their dreams, and obstructs immigrants from sharing their gifts and improving the economy.
As religious people who believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, we are called to change this. We are being called to work together with other faith, immigrant, and community partners to encourage our lawmakers to take action. We have a historic opportunity to help create a pathway to belonging and hope for 11 million immigrant brothers and sisters.
I fervently hope you will join me in making it a reality.
Rev. Abhi Janamanchi
Senior Minister, Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church
P.S. Use these hashtags on social media to continue to raise awareness with your friends and family, and encourage them to contact Congress to #DemandAVote because the #TimeIsNow to #PassCIR.