This last Monday, Nov. 9, I was fortunate enough to lobby on Capitol Hill as part of the Ignatian Family Teach In for Justice. My group spoke with two staff members from Louise Slaughter’s office, and one staff member from John Katko’s office. Over the course of the weekend, we focused on three main issues: foreign policy with Central America, comprehensive immigration reform and sustainable environmental policies. We spent the majority of the time learning about specific examples of what was going on and why such reform was needed. Then Sunday night we had our informational meeting to explain what actions we needed our representatives to take.
Regarding immigration, I was surprised at how little our current system helps those wanting to take legal routes to immigrate. Some of the more general points were trying to keep families together, protecting refugees and those seeking asylum status, and ensure the most basic of human rights to immigrant families and workers. Then we talked about more specific topics such as ending programs like Operation Streamline and the detention bed mandate. In our meeting with Louise Slaughter’s staff we focused on the detention bed mandate. This is where immigrant detention facilities have a minimum quota on number of people that must be detained at any given time. Her staff agreed that we needed to eliminate this quota, and the Justice is Not For Sale Act was of assistance in this.
When we discussed policy towards Central America we also talked about immigration. People from the Northern Triangle, consisting of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, live in the most dangerous places in the world. Over the weekend I learned that three of the five cities with the highest murder rates in the world are in that region, with a city in Honduras being number one. We asked for their representatives to support reform making it easier for refugees and asylum seekers to relocate to the United States, or more specifically, we asked for the end of militarized borders to make it easier for these people to enter into the US. We also asked that those fleeing Central America will be given the right to a full and fair process to access refugee status and protection.
Our final issue was one I was most familiar with, but learned so much more about it over the weekend; environmental justice. I was also able to speak on this issue myself Although this was a global issues, in order to get reform we needed to focus on local statistics, I shared that in Buffalo, New York (where we were from) there were noticeably higher rates of asthma and cancer in housing closest to the Peace Bridge because of the disproportionately high pollution. I also shared that this was not an individual case; on the other side of the United States in Wilmington, California (not too far from where I grew up), they also saw disproportionately higher rates of childhood asthma and cancer, because of the port’s harmful pollution. After being given specific information, we discussed what we wanted from our representatives. First, we wanted the full allocation of funds to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) because we do have a voice and influence over how the GCF uses its funds. Secondly, we wanted the United States to attend and lead at the global leadership talks in Paris concerning climate issues. We concluded by stating that the United States needs to become a proactive country and less of a reactive country, because climate change is a global issue.
Overall, my day lobbying on Capitol Hill was a unique experience where I was surprised at how open and receptive representatives were to hear constituents' voices. The day made me realize that every one of us has a voice on what is done in our government and we can share our opinion if we disagree with what our representatives are doing.