Note: Lori Fernald Khamala, program director of AFSC's Project Voice in Greensboro, North Carolina, shares the story of how AFSC partnered with FCNL and local Quakers to advocate for humane immigration reform this month. - Madeline
Even though Quaker organizations often work on the same issues and share the same values, it doesn’t mean we always work together as well as we should. But recently, a local collaboration between AFSC and the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) netted big gains.
When I got a call from an FCNL intern working on immigration reform issues in North Carolina’s 6th district, I was excited about the possibilities. FCNL was encouraging supporters in certain districts to write letters to the editor and contact members of Congress about humane immigration reform. Since our Greensboro office was already working on these issues, and we share many of the same Quaker supporters, it was natural to work together.
I care about immigrant justice for many reasons. One is the basic principles of fairness and justice, and my belief in that of God in every person, regardless of legal status. I believe in immigrant justice for the same reasons I believe in social and racial and economic justice for all persons: I want my daughter to grow up in a fair and just world, for all children to have the same opportunities and a strong sense of worth.
The other major reasons I care about immigrant justice are the immigrant families I know: My friend who was stuck in a detention center for an oversight on his visa— he experienced terrible conditions, was unable to contact his attorney, was transferred without warning; another friend, a devoted father of U.S. citizen children, who has done nothing but work hard since he arrived in this country more than a decade ago, and every day risks detention and deportation because he cannot get a valid drivers’ license; another friend who grew up in North Carolina since he was 1 year old, but has no way to obtain valid legal papers. I am in this struggle for them.
In late June, the U.S. Senate passed an immigration reform bill that contained a limited path to citizenship for many of the 12 million undocumented residents of the U.S.. However, it also raised great concerns with the extreme border militarization and electronic verification system for all employees, and even the numbers of people who might actually qualify to apply for legal permanent residency: over 13 years, applicants must pay $2000, must remain above the poverty level and must not be unemployed for more than 60 days, or they are deemed ineligible.
The House broke for the August congressional recess without taking up any bills at all that provided any path to citizenship. So far, we have only seen punitive and harsh anti-immigrant measures. It is critical that House members hear from constituents about how urgent this struggle is, as the deportation machine continues to rage, approximately 1100 deported each day, tearing families apart.
During our collaboration over the past month, FCNL and AFSC interns shared contacts and together called over 50 individuals in Greensboro, inviting them to take action on immigration reform during the August recess. Many people called and wrote letters to the editor. Yet one individual, who works with immigrants and refugees on a daily basis, took the project further.
Lizzie Biddle attends New Garden Friends Meeting. After the FCNL intern made initial contact inviting her to participate in the campaign, Lizzie called me, because she felt a real leading to get even more involved in the struggle for humane immigration reform. I was arranging a meeting with our local Representative and suggested she attend. But then I thought better of it. What if Lizzie organized her own session with the Representative and invited members of her Meeting? We could double our effectiveness! She liked the idea and was willing to take it on.
I don’t know if our hardened conservative legislators will end up supporting a fairer immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for my friends or not. But I know that without the work of AFSC, FCNL, the work of local Quaker congregations and immigrants speaking out and sharing their stories, nothing will change. And even if our legislators don’t change, this work changes us.
You can still take action! Call your representative and stand up for fair and humane immigration reform that prioritizes family unity and creates a truly accessible path to citizenship! Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121. (They can even tell you who your representative is if you are not sure.) For talking points and to learn AFSC’s principles for humane immigration reform, visit www.afsc.org/monarch or www.afsc.org/newpath. You can find FCNL’s principles here: http://fcnl.org/resources/newsletter/mayjun13/an_immigration_bill_checklist/