A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Work…
For those of you who are curious about how I ended up yesterday at the White House on a stage with the President and Vice President of the United States, here’s the play-by-play;
The White House had been planning a gathering with leaders from the business, labor and faith communities who are committed to comprehensive immigration reform. The Reform Movement has been playing a crucial leadership role in advocating for immigration reform, including our Movement’s cooperative efforts between the RAC, Rabbis Organizing Rabbis (CCAR), Just Congregations, Reform CA and our 13 summer camps. So it made sense that the RAC’s invitation was received from the White House early Wednesday evening with the request, “If there is someone you’ve worked with who has a personal connection to the issue or has worked hard on the issue… feel free to send them.” I cutely responded (internally only!) “I’m an immigrant J.” Suddenly, unexpectedly, and happily, I was on the list to attend the event. The next email from the White House? “What’s Daphne’s immigration story?” And then yesterday morning at 9:00 am, I received a call asking, “Can you get to the White House a little earlier than you planned? We want you to be on the dais with the President.” Wha-what? Yes! After getting a little choked up, I stammered out my profound appreciation and rushed over to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
My story? Spoiler alert: there was nothing dramatic or traumatic about my sojourn from Canada to the U.S. I did not travel by raft over Niagara Falls, nor was I smuggled over the border in a bin of Canadian-made goods marked for import. In the 1990s I was a graduate student in New York. I then got married to an American and applied for permanent residency. It was a tedious and time-consuming process that required completing lots of forms, an interview with INS and paying fees to process my application.
But I know my story is part of a larger narrative and that many are not as lucky as I have been. When the White House asked for my immigration story, I also told them that I, like so many others, come from a long immigrant history. My father’s family fled deeper into Eastern Europe during WWII. Once the war was over, they made their way to Israel. My father was born en route to pre-state Palestine. My mother’s parents moved to Palestine from Greece and Turkey before she was born in 1949, fleeing difficult living conditions and likely persecution. Even though with relative security and freedom, living conditions were hard in Israel and after the Six Day War my parents tried to move to the United States from Israel. But though my father was granted an entry visa, the process of bringing my mother and then-baby sister would have been lengthy with long separations. Not unreasonably, my parents wanted to keep their family together, and so they moved to Canada instead.
I have been fortunate. I am mindful that, though it took some work, my own immigration experience was seamless and involved education, not persecution. But our immigration system remains broken; in particular the family separations that my parents had to deal with have only become worse. At the same time, employers’ needs aren’t being met, we’re not being smart about border security, and too many immigrant workers are taken advantage of. This year the Senate has already passed an immigration reform bill by a wide, bipartisan majority that addressed many of these issues. Now it’s time for the House to do the same.
In his closing remarks, the President ended with a moment of gratitude – and a call to action, “to those of you who are here today, I want to just say one last thing and that is — thank you. I want to thank you for your persistence. I want to thank you for your activism. I want to thank you for your passion and your heart when it comes to this issue. And I want to tell you, you’ve got to keep it up. Keep putting the pressure on all of us to get this done. There are going to be moments — and there are always moments like this in big efforts at reform — where you meet resistance, and the press will declare something dead, it’s not going to happen, but that can be overcome.”
Now is the time to take action. Comprehensive immigration reform is long overdue. It is good for families, it will be good for businesses and all of that will make it good for America.
Image courtesy of The White House/Pete Souza.