On Wednesday Feb 13, a group of students, faculty, and staff Skyped with Nebraska Sen. Mike Johanns about Immigration Reform. It was part of the Ignatian Family Advocacy Month, which is a national campaign encouraging people–primarily students–to meet with their legislators to talk about Immigration Reform, Economic Justice, and Sustainability.
Even though I have done some legislative visits before, I was still pretty nervous to be meeting with the Senator. I heard that he is somewhat against immigration reform, so my group was expecting to go in there and have a difficult discussion. I think that we were all surprised to find that he was much more open to change than he had been in the past.
We opened up the conversation with a personal story from Jossy, a community member who works with the immigrant community in Omaha for Catholic Charities. She talked about how she sees families broken up all the time by deportations, and how this only serves to hurt the community and perpetuates the cycle of poverty. We hoped that this would help him see that we have a connection to people affected by unjust immigration policies, and that we were serious about the issue.
We then started asking him questions about the new immigration framework that was introduced by a bipartisan group of representatives, and if he would vote for it when the bill came to the floor. He said that he was worried about different components related to security. The Senator seemed worried about terrorists and criminals coming into our country through unsecured boarders.
This was particularly frustrating for me to hear, because I felt that it was a cop-out answer. Saying that he would not vote for immigration reform until the boarders are entirely secure is basically saying that he will never vote for immigration reform, because there will never be a time when the boarders are completely secure.
Towards the end of the meeting, Johanns told us a story about a 14- year-old boy who was brought illegally into the United States from Mexico when he was a toddler. The boy had never been taught Spanish, and had lived his entire life as an American. The Senator admitted that these circumstances are terrible, complicated, and heartbreaking. He said that it would not make sense to deport this kid, because he had no cultural connections to Mexico and would not be able to thrive in that country.
This story gave most of us a little sense of hope that he was warming up to the idea of immigration reform, and that he understands how families can be ruined by deportations. It will be interesting to see what becomes of the bi-partisan framework in the next few months.
CCSJ Student Coordinator
Class of 2013
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