Live-Blogging the RI4A Summit - Round 4 - Town Hall

gutierrez summit

The RI4A Summit continued in full force today at the Town Hall Meeting, held at the Church of the Reformation which neighbors Capitol Hill.

The church was packed to its 600 person capacity and despite the early morning trek from their hotels, the attendees were high-energy throughout the 2 hour Town Hall. The meeting opened with a blessing from leaders in the Catholic, Jewish, Baptist and Muslim faiths. The list of speakers during the Town Hall was extensive - Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D - CA), Chair of the House Subcommittee on Immigration, Rep. Mike Honda (D - CA), Robert Cole, a member of the Florida Immigrant Coalition and a US Veteran, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D - IL), Senator Robert Menendez (D - NJ), Julieta Garibay, a DREAM Act Student leader from Texas and a roundtable discussion including Mark Lauritsen of UFCW, William Lucy of AFSCME and Arturo Rodriguez of UFW.

In short, it was a jam-packed agenda, full of inspiration, energy and momentum, but not without a healthy dose of tension and agitation. It was a two-hour long event, but I want to focus on a few things that stand out for me.

The first was the testimony given by Robert Cote, a US Citizen and a War Veteran. Robert is married to a woman from Honduras and the couple lives in Florida with their two children. He told the story of his sister-in-law, who was involved in a domestic dispute with her boyfriend. The sister-in-law was bloodied and bruised and the police were called. When Robert's wife began helpfully interpreting for the policeman, being sure they understood her sister's testimony of the horrific violence, the police paid no attention to the beaten woman and immediately seized on Robert's wife, asking her to prove her citizenship and grilling her for proof she was in the country legally. After producing her passport and graciously complying with police, a removal order from years prior showed up on her record and she was arrested. A wife and a mother of two, whose crime was helping law enforcement to make her community safer, was held in prison for 9 days with no charges. Eventually, the family fought the case and his wife's trial is still progressing.

What struck me about Robert's testimony was not only the injustice faced by the family, but it was also something he said. "When someone is taken away from a family, it is not just that person who suffers. Its everyone." Before his testimony, Rep. Mike Honda talked about how families (in all their many forms) are the very fabric of society. Together, families can do so much more than individuals - buy a house, invest in their comunity - and when you destroy families you are destroying America.

I think Robert's family, who is still awaiting to hear its fate - is a perfect example of why immigraiton reform is as urgent as ever. As he said:

"I fought a war from this country. And I will fight a war for my family."

The fight is on and the pressure is mounting. Here in this church you can feel the patience of the movement waning. Now is the time, this is the year.

This brings me to the second point that stood out for me. When Luis Gutierrez, who has been lauded over and over as a true champion for immigration reform, was introduced by Pastor Freddy Santiago, the Pastor challenged the Congressman over the posteponement of the White House meeting with Barack Obama on immigration. Santiago said that it was a negative sign, a sign that we aren't being taken seriously.

Gutierrez pushed back, saying that it gives the movement even more time to organize and prepare going into the meeting.

But, in my view, the postponement of the meeting is actually a good sign: for two reasons.

  1. The President is abroad right now and will more than likely have appointments or trips that come up at the last minute. In order to be back for a meeting on Monday, it would be a stretch. I think that this issue is enough of a priority that the rescheduling occurred so the President could attend in person.
  2. It is giving us an opportunity to truly show our power. In the last 24 hours over 80,000 faxes have hit the offices of Congress, asking for immigration reform. As I type, over 700 people are knocking walking through the halls of Congress, knocking on doors, attending meetings and sitting down with our lawmakers to make their case clear: we need reform and we need it now. The postponement of the meeting is only going to make the movement even more focused and more impatient with the wait for reform. This translates into more pressure on members of Congress, and the President, to deliver.

The Town Hall ended on a high note, with a call to Take It to Congress, as hundreds of energized advocates poured out of the church doors and into the offices of lawmakers on Capitol Hill. I bet if you were there right now you would be able to hear at least one "Si se puede" reverberating off the halls of Congress.

The movement has offically hit DC and its not going anywhere until its won.