“It would be like we have been living underwater, and for the first time, we would be able to come up and breathe.”
I heard one of the undocumented immigrants say this. We just had finished a meditation of imagining what the day would be like when we, a group working on immigration reform, win citizenship. The tears of real joy, laughter, and heartbreak showed me a glimpse of reality of the 11 million people who are undocumented in our country.
As a result of this emotional reflection, we decided we needed to make this issue felt in our community and then created our Pilgrimage for Citizenship. Our journey was to tell the immigrant story and our path brought us through the very suburban communities I grew up in.
Walking past houses that could have been my parents’ elicited in me the feelings I often get as the white male organizer working on this campaign: first, a pang of guilt of about my affluence, then movement towards “I can fix the world on my own” mood, then a return of the sense of guilt, and the cycle repeats.
After acting out of these emotions often, it has become clear to me they are simply unhelpful. They ignore the real individualist sin of “whiteness” at work.
This sin directs me ask the questions, “Should I work on this or not? How should I work on this and with whom?” It all presumes and focuses on my choice.
Listening during the mediation on citizenship and walking the Pilgrimage have taught me that the questions I should be asking are not about my choices but about my commitment. Is my commitment to my own freedom of choice, even good choices about justice and right, or to the freedom of the community? Is my commitment accountable to God and reality, or simply to my own feelings and preferences?
My immigration work has pushed me to be in more relationship with reality and people’s suffering, and this has set the tone for my commitment. On this issue it has meant using my gifts to be the most helpful and strategic in getting a Republican congressman to support citizenship.
Citizenship is necessary not only to stop the tremendous suffering caused by our broken immigration laws but also to give a democratic voice to 11 million aspiring voters in our community.
Our pilgrimage’s purpose was to start living into this desired reality by giving space for immigrants to have a voice and for voters to really listen to them. We talked to over 800 people at churches, yet our own Congressman would not even meet with us. (Read about the end of the pilgrimage here.) His response echoes a national answer. The door of the possibility of real immigration reform this year is continually closing.
Our faith-filled response in the face of this reality is to work as hard as we can to win citizenship now and if we don’t, buckling down next year to do the phone banking, door-knocking or whatever it takes to build the voting power to make this happen.
I believe we are only in relationship with God only as far as we are in relationship with reality.
My spiritual path therefore lies in this commitment to working with my immigrant brothers and sisters, and everyone in our community who wants a society where all can come up for air and breathe free.