We gather in Congressman Ruben Hinojosa’s south Texas office. It is a wet and chilly afternoon, but on this December 15th, Luis Gutierrez, the representative from Chicago, has introduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act into the House. A group of us have come to thank the congressman for his support for the bill.
We are a crowd–some community organizers and other regular folks. “Regular” as in people who have spent their entire lives doing manual labor, who have never had the luxury of a bank account, or a standing army to secure their petrol dollars, or several thousand people on Capitol Hill working to get them the best tax breaks money can buy.
Just regular people. One, Pedro Garcia, is 72 years old and who just recently passed his citizenship exam, a test that according to CNN nearly 75% of American citizens could not finish. He did well on his exam, and in English, to boot, a language he has only a passing acquaintance with.
Then there is Estela, an elderly woman who is dressed exquisitely, wearing a red vest lined with filigreed detail, an almost outrageous outfit—but so well-made as to be perfect. She sits quietly in the conference room, regally, as if she knows that she belongs there.
The others are mothers, day-laborers, a sheet metal worker. All citizens and voters who have come out on a rainy, chilly day in support of immigration reform.
A video-conference has been arranged, and shortly, the eighteen of us are visiting with the Congressman over the airwaves. The congressman is gracious, apologizing for the quality of the video. “It is six years old,” he says, “And not state-of-the-art.”
We are, however, impressed.
Martha speaks with great energy, assuring the congressman of the wide-spread support of this initiative and of our commitment to work for the passage of the bill. Congressman Hinojosa smiles, genuinely touched by the comments of those of us he can see in this room, some 1,800 miles away from his place on Capitol Hill.
We are jammed into this small room, for there are millions of us here. Present in the hearts and minds of those gathered here this afternoon, they are unseen and invisible to those in Washington. These millions are the people living in the shadows of America, undocumented people, people unprotected by the law. No one really knows just how many millions there are. Some researchers say twelve, others up to twenty million. They are many, and they are our neighbors and employees, fellow parishioners and parents of the kids that are in school with our children.
We are here today because we wish for them to be seen, to be counted, to be acknowledged, respected, and protected.
We will now watch those very visible people who work on Capitol Hill, to see if they will do the right thing.
We will not let our elected leaders hide behind those very tired, very un-American excuses that the nervous and angry people—the “Know-Nothings” as they proudly refer to themselves–offer each and every political season. We are watching, with close attention. We are watching.