A word to Congress: “Whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers …”

Guess who said this:

I like talking about people who don’t have any power. And it seems like some of the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come and do our work but don’t have any rights as a result. And yet we still invite them to come here, and at the same time ask them to leave. And that seems like an interesting contradiction to me. And, you know, whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers … these seem like the least of our brothers, right now. And I know that a lot of people are the least of my brothers because the economy is so hard, and I don’t want to take anyone’s hardship away from them or diminish it or anything like that, but migrant workers suffer, and they have no rights.

If you’re observant, you’ll be able to glean from the video below that it wasn’t an immigrant rights or social justice advocate, it wasn’t a pastor or an organizer. This was Stephen Colbert, comedian and satirist, stepping briefly out of character while testifying before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law.

And Colbert, a Catholic, answered the final question addressed to him by quoting Jesus in Matthew 25.

Back in the District

Got back to DC last Thursday. Leave for Illinois next Tuesday.

That’s the news for now, folks. Though there may/will be news coming …

P.S. In non-me-related news, the Senate Republicans united to defeat a cloture motion that would allow the Defense Authorization bill, including the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and the DREAM Act; which dents hopes for the passage of both of those pieces of legislation. However, the Child Protection Compact Act, which is geared toward combating child trafficking, was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which means it could come to the floor for a vote.

UPDATE: My friend Allison Johnson, who heads up Sojourners’ Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform campaign, had this to say after today’s vote: “Our DREAMs Deferred, Our Hearts Emboldened.” She offered up this Martin Luther King, Jr. quote as an closing encouragement:

We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.


Asian-American History: 10 Facts

Asian-American history doesn’t get taught much in schools (and probably even less so in Texas), but May is Asian-American Heritage Month (in case you didn’t already know). And Jenn Fang has compiled ten facts you may not know about Asian-American history. Here are the first five:

  1. The first Asians whose arrival in America was documented were Filipinos who escaped a Spanish galleon in 1763. They formed the first Asian-American settlement in U.S. history, in the swamps surrounding modern-day New Orleans.
  2. In the years between 1917 and 1965, Uncle Sam explicitly outlawed immigration to the U.S. of all Asian people. Immigration from China, for example, was banned as early as 1882, when the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed. It wasn’t until the Immigration Act of 1965 — which abolished national origins as a basis for immigration decisions — that nearly 50 years of race-based discrimination against Asian immigrants ended.
  3. Because of their race, Asians immigrants were denied the right to naturalize as U.S. citizens, until the 1943 Magnuson Act was passed. Consequently, for nearly a century of U.S. history, Asians were barred from owning land and testifying in court by laws that specifically targeted “aliens ineligible to citizenship.” Even after the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, American-born children of Chinese immigrants were not regarded as American citizens until the landmark 1898 Supreme Court case, United States v. Wong Kim Ark, which established that the Fourteen Amendment also applied to people of Asian descent.
  4. Among the earliest Asian immigrants, virtually all ethnicities worked together as physical laborers, particularly on Hawaii’s sugar cane plantations. On these plantations, a unique hybrid language — pidgin — developed that contained elements of Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean and English. Today, pidgin is one of the official languages of Hawaii, a state that is itself 40% Asian.
  5. Despite the Alien Land Law, which specifically prevented Asians from owning their own land, Japanese farmers were highly successful in the West Coast where they put into practice their knowledge of cultivating nutrient-poor soil to yield profitable harvests. By the 1920s, Japanese farmers (working their own land, or land held by white landowners that they managed) were the chief agricultural producers of many West Coast crops. In fact, the success of Japanese farmers is often cited as one of the reasons white landowners in California lobbied to support Japanese-American internment following the declaration of World War II.

You can find the rest here. And here’s a fuller timeline of Asian-American history.

Thanks to Angry Asian Man for the heads-up.

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.