Prayer Breakfast with Obama on Immigration Reform

This past week I was privileged to be invited and attend the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast in Wash DC, a 3-day event that included meetings with policy makers, briefings in the White House, and yes, a prayer breakfast with President Obama himself. Of course, my first question when my friend Greg Yee sent me the invite: um – I’m not Hispanic? But he assured me that the Covenant wanted a broader representation standing up for the issues of immigration, housing, and jobs – which I have already been passionate about.

Now that I am back home, I can synthesize the entire trip in two phrases:

1. Your vote (alone) doesn’t matter

2. Who you stand with does

Mind you, this was no partisan event; and to prove it, we spent all of our time visiting with Republican representatives from my state of Texas to discuss an issue that is usually backed by Democrats. We abandoned “inflammatory” words such as “amnesty” in hopes of finding a via media between harsh rhetoric; we stood for securing the borders. But at the same time we kept pressing that you just can’t ignore the 2 million undocumented within our borders – it is a human issue.

The response was amazing. One Texas policymaker broke down in tears as we met with her, told her the issues and prayed over her. She was most receptive. She assured us she would do all she can on this issue. Another policymaker was icy toward us. He kept repeating the phrase, “but they broke the law, but they broke the law.” No matter how much we pushed the human dimension of the problem, here was someone who was fixed on his ideology. I cannot see how someone like that could stay in office long, as Texas grows increasingly diverse, and the Hispanic constituency increases in influence as a socially conservative force. You think the hard-right Republicans would latch onto that.

In the end we said, “so you basically are standing for the starving out of 2 million undocumented workers and deporting them all,” to which he replied after brief pause, “Yes.”

God you gotta love Texas.

To be fair, most of the Republican policymakers we met with however, were seeking an open-minded middle-way – and this was MOST encouraging. Even Newt Gingrich, who announced his running for president at one of our sessions, discussed a way forward, in “a series of bills” trying to push for some kind of legalized status of the undocumented, whether it be extended visas or special guest workers permits, so as to protect these people from exploitation. FYI, Newt doesn’t believe “comprehensive” immigration reform is possible at all.

Others begged to differ. Chuck Schumer, D-NY argued against this pessimism and begged us to keep up the good fight, pressing for the ear of legislators both sides of the aisle – which brings me back to the two points originally stated…

My vote doesn’t count. Alone, it can do nothing.

But my vote with a large (and powerful) group of people lobbying for human rights can be significant; it’s not about your vote alone, as much as it is about your vote together with… and I learned how to lobby. Not frivolously, but passionately, with the right people. I’ve always believed in immigration reform. I don’t believe these people are taking American jobs. These are jobs Americans won’t take. Even Texas Republican legislators believe that. And it takes a group of people talking to their representatives to bring about change. After a few days on Capitol Hill I can now say, “I get it” – I understand. Thank God for the political process. Thank God for the chance to push change through for those suffering in front of my eyes. Maranatha.

Published by Wayne Park

Asian-American clergyman thinking about issues of faith, place, race and culture-making in the vast city of Houston, TX

One thought on “Prayer Breakfast with Obama on Immigration Reform

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: