Hope for Immigration Reform: The National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast and Conference
By Theresa Martin
More than 3.5 million unauthorized immigrants in America live below the poverty line. Many of them flee hunger in their home countries only to arrive in the United States and find themselves struggling to feed themselves and their families yet again. In a country where 33 million tons of food is wasted each year, and roughly 75 percent of our farm workers are migrants, how is it that so many immigrants go hungry? “For I was hungry and you gave me food… I was a stranger and you welcomed me”—have we forgotten Jesus’ words?
I recently had the opportunity, along with immigration advocates from across the country, to attend the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast and Conference, hosted by Esperanza, an organization that works to support Latino communities in the United States. Both Democratic and Republican leaders spoke to the topic of immigration reform, and attendees had the opportunity to lobby members of Congress on Capitol Hill.
While some members of Congress refuse to support an earned path to citizenship until the border is 100 percent secure, we emphasized that this is merely holding undocumented immigrants “hostage,” as Rev. Luis Cortés, president and founder of Esperanza, put it during his remarks. Migrants will continue to cross the border, even illegally, if they must do so in order to feed themselves and their families. Therefore, as long as poverty and hunger persist, the border will not be completely secure. As we urged leaders inside the congressional offices to support fair immigration reform, protesters stood outside holding signs, one of which read, “Exporting Illegals = Importing Jobs For Americans.” The protest was a stark reminder that we must continue to dispel myths about immigrants and advocate for a more just immigration system.
On June 28, the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill, but the struggle is not over. Members of the House will now take up the issue, and we must continue speaking with our congressional leaders and urging them to create a more just immigration system.Though this struggle continues, the magnitude of energy at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast and Conference was encouraging. We can remain hopeful for reform.
In his address at the prayer breakfast, Vice President Joe Biden stood by this hope for a better system. He recalled the words of Irish poet Seamus Heaney:
History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave,
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme
Now is the time to move forward with immigration reform—and we must act with hope. As Vice President Biden declared, “We’re on the cusp, in our generation, of making hope and history rhyme.”
Theresa Martin is an intern in Bread for the World's church relations department.
Bottom photo: Advocates who attended the prayer breakfast thank Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) for her work on immigration reform and urge her to continue taking a leadership role in the fight.
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