Immigration reform is gaining momentum and support from people in all corners of the nation. I’m honored to bring you interviews with some of the dedicated leaders who are making this happen. Today, I’d like to highlight an interview with Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby. LIRS Media Relations Specialist Clarissa Perkins conducted the email interview.
Clarissa Perkins (CP): How did you find yourself involved in immigration reform?
Simone Campbell (SC): NETWORK has worked on immigration reform for most of its existence. The last time it was actively in the news (2006 and 2007), I lobbied on the issue. Unfortunately, Congress didn’t vote for reform at that time and since that failure, we have been trying to build momentum to actually make change. We come at this from faith since Jesus was always engaging and welcoming the stranger. As his followers we have a mandate to do likewise. We cannot be silent when families are torn apart and exploited. So while we have done this work because of our history, we also do it because of our passion.
CP: What are you advocating for most in a new immigration reform bill?
SC: It is difficult to pick one aspect of immigration reform because all of the pieces are interlocking. We have to fix our current visa programs so that people can get into the United States in a reasonable and responsible way. If we fix the visa program it will help alleviate the decades-long waits that currently exist. But we also must address the fact that there are now 11 million people in the United States without current documentation. These people have been doing the most menial tasks to support our economy. We must have an earned, clear and compassionate path to citizenship for them.
CP: You recently came home from the “Nuns on the Bus” trip across the US, visiting 15 states. What was your biggest takeaway from the tour?
SC: Everywhere we went on the bus, we met people in our nation who are demanding that we fix our laws. Our tour was not to where we have our biggest number of supporters. We drove through the South, which is not very Catholic and has Members of Congress who often resist this type of legislation. Everywhere we went, people turned out demanding comprehensive immigration reform NOW!
I knew that people were afraid, but I never knew the mix of fears. In Savannah, we met a 17-year-old who had received her temporary protected status (TPS) papers and now had her learner’s permit to drive a car. She is terrified that her parents could be picked up by the police so she insists on doing all of the family driving. In Dallas, we met young immigrants who traveled long distances to Catholic Charities to fill out their paperwork because they were terrified of “notaries” who can take advantage of unsuspecting people. In Phoenix, we met a 19-year-old immigrant fearful that she is not doing an adequate job raising her 11-year-old twin siblings since her parents were deported.
But we also saw a lot of hope. In North Carolina, a realtor told us that the National Association of Hispanic Realtors did a study that indicated that 3 million immigrants are poised to buy homes once there is security in their legal position. In El Paso, we heard that El Paso is the safest city in the United States three years in a row. We were urged to share this information because the people in Washington want to think it is a dangerous place to be. In Silicon Valley, an immigrant CEO of a startup told us that she requires as many national backgrounds as possible at the table when solving a problem. She says that only by having different cultural backgrounds do you really have the breadth of creativity that you need to solve the complex problems in today’s global world.
CP: What were some of the various ways you saw groups and individuals support immigration reform across the nation?
SC: In Pleasant Hill, California, Christ the King Parish put an insert all about immigration reform in the parish bulletin to educate all of the parishioners. In Dallas, Texas, Catholic Charities was doing a stellar job processing young applicants for the Temporary Protected Status. They were using their stories to educate others about the reality of the situation. In Scranton, Pennsylvania, we saw a great civic and interfaith effort to incorporate more than 30 nationalities into the city. They were finding that immigrants re-vitalized their rust-belt city. In Camden, New Jersey, we saw a struggling community coming together to create better education, ESL and job training for their people. They were also learning to advocate together for the needs of their friends and neighbors. I can go on and on. Each day, all across the country for 6800 miles, we met people raising their hands and their voices for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.
CP: What was your favorite memory from the trip?
SC: The most powerful memory of the trip is actually the intersection of two stories.
The first occurred in San Antonio, Texas, where we had an outdoor press event and rally. Congressman Pete Gallego, who had just arrived from the airport, stood at the podium with his prepared text. His eight-year-old son Nicholas saw him and ran up and threw his arms around his father’s waist to greet him. Rep. Gallego, obviously touched, put his papers down and said that he was not going to use his prepared text. Rather, he spoke from the heart and told us that his attitude toward immigration reform was forever changed the first time he held Nicholas right after he was born. He told us that he knew in that moment that he would do whatever he could to protect his son. He would even give his life for his son.
The second story came a few days later on the Pascua-Yaqui reservation outside of Tucson, Arizona. Chairman Peter Yucupicio of the Pascua-Yaqui nation talked about desperate people trying to cross the desert. He told me that he had found the body of a woman curled up under a large desert bush. When they turned over her huddled body they found that she was cradling the body of her infant child. What immediately struck me was that this nameless woman had the same commitment to her child as Congressman Gallego—and most parents everywhere. The only difference is that her quest to protect her child ended in both of their deaths. It is this stark story that is at its heart of what comprehensive immigration reform is about and why we need to reform our laws.