WASHINGTON — In a meeting with Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on April 27, Gloria Mancilla explained the challenges she faces as a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient, including bi-annual background checks, inability to get loans, and uncertainty of status from administration to administration.
“I told him that we grew up here and we were raised here and we were taught by our parents to love and take advantage of this country and in order for us to contribute to this country we need to have the tools; we need to have a pathway to citizenship,” Mancilla told The Tablet.
Also on April 27, Mauro Pineda led a delegation of six Hispanic Catholics in a meeting with the staff of Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill) where an undocumented woman from Honduras told her story and explained her hardships.
“What caught us all off guard was that the staffer admitted to us that her parent was undocumented, and she started breaking down and crying during this meeting, so obviously our words had an effect on the staffers and we feel confident that we got the message across that way,” Pineda said.
The meetings above were a part of more than two dozen that took place that day between nearly 400 Hispanic Catholic leaders and senators or their congressional staff. The meetings were to urge senators to address the root causes of migration and take steps towards immigration reform legislation that will provide a pathway to citizenship to DACA recipients and holders of Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure.
Hispanic Catholic leaders described the meetings, which took place with senators on both sides of the political aisle, as fruitful and frank conversations detailed by their stories and the actions they want to see.
Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville of Washington, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ migration committee chair, said the day turned out exactly how they had hoped.
“Our intention was to create dialogue,” Bishop Dorsonville told The Tablet. “The faces that they saw yesterday were a reminder for them that there’s so much more to do together.”
However, some participants had some concerns about the nature of the meetings and the participation of congressional leaders despite the quality of the actual discussions.
Erica Fernandez Zamora, the lead organizer with advocacy organization Fuerza Unida, came from California with one of the largest Hispanic Catholic leader delegations. One of their meetings was with the staff of Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). Zamora said she would’ve preferred to meet with the senator herself.
“As a constituent, as a voter, and as an immigrant myself too, I wish they would take the time, especially for those of us that came all the way from California to meet with the representatives on issues that are really important for the state and for the nation,” Zamora said.
Father Juan Molina, the president/CEO of the Mexican American Catholic College in the Archdiocese of San Antonio described the meetings that happened as “great,” but expressed concerns over the ones that didn’t take place. He said it seemed like congressional leaders from some states must not have been interested in having these conversations.
“I noticed that some of the doors were closed from both sides of the aisle,” Molina said. “That was a little disconcerting because it used to be that we sat down, we would express our opinions, they would tell us a few things and we would go on our way. It was all civil.”
Inside the meetings, though, the Hispanic Catholic leaders didn’t hold back.
Pineda, who works in immigration ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago said he made it clear to Duckworth’s staff from the start that he didn’t want to hear political talking points, statistics, or blame placed on Congressional leaders across the political aisle for not getting things done.
“It was good because it put them in our territory rather than having us trying to be diplomatic or political, which is something they’re used to and good at. We brought them into our conversation,” Pineda said. “We made it very clear that what we wanted to see was Tammy Duckworth fight for us.”
Mancilla, a leader with the coalition Quad Cities Interfaith described her meeting with Grassley as “great” because he “heard the story.” She said he expressed concern about the state of the U.S-Mexico border but seemed supportive of a pathway to citizenship for dreamers.
“Every senator and politician must show a face to us and may think otherwise, but I feel that DACA is something he will support,” Mancilla said.
On April 27, two members of the House of Representatives also came together and made the case for senators to come together in a bipartisan manner to work towards immigration reform.
Representatives Daniel Newhouse (R-WA), and Salud Carbajal (D-CA) told Bishop Dorsonville, and many Hispanic Catholic leaders at a midday press conference that they “found common ground” on immigration legislation for farmers and dreamers.
Newhouse said that “Congress can’t keep kicking the can down the road” to pass immigration legislation that “strengthens our national security, secures the southern border, and recognizes the contributions of many immigrants already in the U.S.
Carbajal added that “this shouldn’t have to be a partisan issue,” noting that the senate should be able to work together the way they have on immigration legislation in the house.
The plea for bipartisanship was a common theme of the day’s conversations.
“We hope that they continue reaching across the aisle because this shouldn’t be a party decision; it should be something that they come together for, as immigrants are providing for the nation,” Zamora said.