Standing with DREAMers

This morning I sat in the Senate Gallery in the U.S. Capitol with about a hundred immigrant youths to show my support for and solidarity with these DREAMers. And sitting with them, hands clasped, heads bowed, lips praying, the reality of their situation hit home to me. These young people, brought to the United States as minors, had known no other home than America and wanted nothing more than to serve and contribute openly for the good of the country. And this morning, that occasion, was more than just a vote for them, more than just the raising or dropping of an index finger to signify approval or disapproval. This morning’s vote was about the very lives and livelihoods of the approximately 800,000 undocumented young people who would benefit from the DREAM Act.

This morning was what I needed: a reminder that the work that we do in seeking to live out the gospel’s demands of justice, of speaking up for the marginalized and voiceless, and of welcoming the stranger, really does matter.

Moving forward, the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Theodore Parker echo in my head: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

I have faith that justice will be served for these young people, that they will be afforded the chance to contribute and live lives out of the shadows. I have faith because justice is at the very heart of God, because the defense of those who are marginalized and oppressed is always the right thing to do. I have faith because American progress, though often slow and tortuous, continues to rumble forward, and comprehensive immigration reform–including the DREAM Act–that demolishes and defeats xenophobic rhetoric and anti-immigrant fear mongering will have its day.

And it will come soon. Not as soon as we would like, perhaps. But soon.

[Praying with the DREAMers after the vote.]

A new day: immigration and health care

I really ought to be going to sleep right now–I’ve been up since early this morning, and need to be up in just a few hours again for work. But I thought it’d be best to get my thoughts down while the figurative iron is still hot.

A lot has happened in the last twenty-four hours.

This morning, I led worship at Sojourners/Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform‘s prayer service. It was an honor for me to sing the songs of God with the people of God, including guests from Washington state, California, New York, Arizona and a crew from Wheaton College who’d driven through the night to get here.

In the afternoon, I headed down to the National Mall for March FOR America, a massive rally–somewhere between 100,000 to 500,000, depending on who you ask–in support of just and humane immigration reform, which was preceded by a stirring interfaith service (also on the Mall).

To walk through the throngs of people of all different ages and colors, immigrants or descended from immigrants or friends of immigrants, was a glimpse for me of the vision in Revelation 7:9, where “there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” In that vision, every knee bowed before the Lamb. In this present, people came together to show their commitment and support for comprehensive immigration reform, for just and humane legislation that kept families together. In standing with my immigrant brothers and sisters, in sharing our stories and our energy, in hearing not only Members of Congress but President Obama as well reaffirm their commitment to passing comprehensive immigration reform this year, my spirit was stirred and greatly encouraged.

(For a summary of the current state of our immigration system, check out this excellent piece from the Immigration Policy Center.)

And tonight, I saw history made as Congress passed comprehensive health care reform that provides coverage for 32 million more Americans and reduces the deficit by over $100 billion over the next 10 years and $1.3 trillion over the next 20 years. Which seems pretty win-win for me. It is not a perfect bill; it will require adjustments and tweaks. But it is a step, and a good step. As the President said in his address, shortly before midnight, “This isn’t radical reform, but it is major reform. This legislation will not fix everything that ails our health care system, but it moves us decisively in the right direction.”

(See news coverage from the NY Times, BBC News and Al Jazeera. And for a summary of what the bill does, you can check out CNN.)

One of the most striking moments, though, was an unexpected one. My friend Liz, who is one of my favorite people in the world and a kindred spirit on so many levels, posted on her Facebook status that today’s health care vote meant that her fiancé could never be denied health insurance on the basis of his diabetes. And that brought it home for me. I know the power of story; I recognize that statistics only go so far in a persuasive argument; I appreciate the importance of putting a face to every single number. I’ve helped people share their stories and heard many of them. But Liz’s joy brought joy to me on a very personal level.

Yes, we can.

UPDATE (3/22/10): Here are 10 immediate benefits of the health care legislation.

I made mistakes as a kid too …

Cross-posted on Faith & Immigration.

Last week, the New York Times shone a light on the story of Qing Hong Wu, former juvenile delinquent, and Michael A. Corriero, retired federal judge. The gist of it is that almost fifteen years ago, Wu pled guilty to a string of muggings committed at age 15. At his hearing, Judge Corriero urged him to turn his life around.

Well, Wu took heed: he was released early on good behavior, worked his way up to become the vice-president at a national technology company by age 29. But in applying for citizenship, he ran into the merciless mess of our current immigration system, which offers no room for rehabilitation. He was locked up as a “criminal alien” in November, awaiting mandatory deportation to China, a country he left at age 5 when his family immigrated to America.

This episode—symptomatic of our broken immigration system—is not a reflection of the highest values we have as a country, where our magnanimity and generosity are matched by welcome and grace. The American dream says that if we work hard and pay our dues, we can and will ultimately make a better life for our families and ourselves. Qing Hong Wu worked hard, paid his dues, and turned his life around.

And now he awaits deportation for actions taken when he was a teenager. I made a lot of mistakes as a kid too—to a certain extent, isn’t that part of our prerogative as kids, and part of the learning and maturing process known as growing up?

But more personal—and more importantly—for me, this episode does not jive well with my faith and my beliefs as a Christian. The God I believe in—the God in whose image I am made, who calls me to be like him—forgave even before we recognized and acknowledged our need for forgiveness. Jesus, whom I call my Savior and Lord, forgave his killers even as he hung dying on the cross.

Here is someone who paid the penalty for his mistakes, did his time and worked to turn his life around—and is now being deported. As Judge Corriero said, “[This situation] really cries out for some kind of justice.” For me as a Christian, as an American and as an immigrant, this is just one story—one of many—that illustrates the desperate need for comprehensive immigration reform now.

UPDATE (3/7/10): Governor Paterson announced that he would pardon Wu, stopping deportation proceedings and allowing Wu to continue applying for U.S. citizenship. Governor Paterson said the case offered “the opportunity to make a forceful statement about the harsh inequity and rigidity of the immigration laws.” Thanks to everyone who participated in appealing on behalf of Qing Hong Wu!

[Qing Hong Wu with his fiancée. Photo: Todd Heisler/The New York Times]

Links of the Day, January 11

It’s Human Trafficking Awareness Day! Tell someone who doesn’t know about the 27 million people trapped in modern slavery. And then do something about it!

Check out these awesome pics to start out your week/day:

And then enjoy this cover from Cathy Nguyen and Andrew Garcia:


Human trafficking