On September 11, 2001, among the headlines in the USA Today was a call for immigration reform (the headlines would be very different the next day, of course). In the 13 years since, the issue has risen and fallen in America’s consciousness, but like Pigpen’s perpetual cloud of dust, it persistently hovers around us. The immigration issue is currently mired in a swale of indifference. The public strongly favors reform, but tired of the public harangue and political gridlock, they are resigned to wait. Reformers seems enervated as well, the embodiment of a weary Sisyphus, watching their boulder near the top of the mountain only to watch helplessly as it tumbles down once again.
The sentiment was far different four years ago. Hispanic leaders and immigration reformers, fueled by President Obama’s repeated promise to “fix the system,” sensed that the dawn of true reform was upon us. Thousands gathered at rallies throughout the country in solidarity and hope for change. In Washington DC, tens of thousands met at the “March For America: Change Takes Courage and Faith” on the National Mall.
Among those in attendance was Rev Tony Suarez, a young pastor from Virginia, who felt compelled to get involved after “watching families being torn apart” by a system that separated fathers and daughters, husbands and wives. Rev Suarez recalls a particular incident that steeled his resolve to bring about change:
I’ll never forget the early morning call from four of our members who had been pulled over and not given the reason why. They called me frantically and asked me to come to the scene and interpret for them. I raced out of my home, and when I arrived, all four of my church members were in handcuffs and were being escorted to an awaiting ICE van. As I approached the scene, a state trooper stopped me and wouldn’t let me go any further. I explained that I was the men’s pastor and was here to help. The trooper put his hand on my shoulder and said “Pastor, you don’t have to worry about pastoring those four men any longer…you’re never going to see them again.”
As Pastor Suarez listened to the faith leaders speak and pray at the huge DC rally, one voice cut through the throng to his heart:
“A man named Samuel Rodriguez spoke with passion and strength. He rebuked elephants and donkeys with authority, exalted the Lamb and the Lamb’s agenda and unashamedly did it all “in the name of Jesus.” When Rev. Rodriguez prayed to the God of Israel, in the name of Jesus, something from heaven fell upon the crowd and many of us knew right then that immigration reform would become a critical issue to us until it was finally resolved.”
That same young pastor is now a Vice President for Dr. Rodriguez’s organization, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. His fervor for immigration reform has not abated; despite the national ennui we are currently experiencing. Instead, the zeal ignited in him in the Spring of 2010 compels him to urge others to reform. He realizes that the challenges are immense. President Obama, once the bright knight spearheading the charge, has been “lamed” by many factors, including impending elections. Opposition sometimes comes from the least likely sources. A few weeks ago, the blogger known as “The Friendly Atheist” went so far as to question whether or not Rev Rodriguez even attended the March rally in 2010 where Pastor Suarez and many others were deeply impacted.
Such inexplicable challenges notwithstanding, Pastor Suarez and many others of us remain undaunted in continuing to keep the issue before lawmakers, leaders and laypeople across this nation. Surely the time draws near when we can muster the courage to make difficult decisions, work across aisles—from DC to local congregations—and eliminate a subclass, release people from limbo, and dispel the cloud of dust that sullies us all.
Dr. Carlos Campo is the Chair of Educational Initiatives for the NHCLC.