Immigrant delegation visits Washington, D.C., to call for immigration reform

Effort co-sponsored by Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Central Committee

[Spanish]

By Annette Brill Bergstresser

Jaime Lázaro, journalist and pastor at Iglesia El Centro, Colorado Springs, Colo., and Yeudi Xiong-Thao from the Hmong Mennonite Church, Westminster, Colo., outside the office of Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) after a meet-and-greet with the senator and a meeting with a member of his staff to talk about immigration reform as part of a day of Mennonite Church USA faith leader policy visits. (Photo by Jesse Epp-Fransen/MCC)
Jaime Lázaro, journalist and pastor at Iglesia El Centro, Colorado Springs, Colo., and Yeudi Xiong-Thao from the Hmong Mennonite Church, Westminster, Colo., outside the office of Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) after a meet-and-greet with the senator and a meeting with a member of his staff to talk about immigration reform as part of a day of Mennonite Church USA faith leader policy visits. (Photo by Jesse Epp-Fransen/MCC)

ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Church USA)—On May 14–15, a delegation of Mennonite leaders with first-hand experience with the U.S. immigration system gathered in Washington, D.C., to meet with congressional representatives to advocate for just and humane immigration reform.

The delegation was co-sponsored by Mennonite Church USA and the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Washington Office.

“It was a historical event on many different levels,” says Virgo Handojo, senior pastor at Grace Indonesian Christian Fellowship, Sierra Madre, Calif., and a participant in the delegation. “Personally, visiting Capitol Hill and knowing how our ideas and opinions can change the law of the country was really a humbling experience.”

“The excitement was great in seeing all of the gears and cogs of the American political machinery moving towards the long-awaited and much needed immigration reform,” adds delegation participant Jaime Lázaro, pastor at Iglesia El Centro, Colorado Springs, Colo., which joined Mountain States Mennonite Conference in August 2012. “I was proud and awed to witness my denomination’s genuine concern and involvement in these matters.”

Iris de León-Hartshorn, director of transformative peacemaking for Mennonite Church USA, noted the three-fold importance of the delegation: it provided an opportunity for immigrant leaders to delve into the legislation and name concerns; it gave voice to immigrants, who are directly affected by the legislation; and it spoke directly into the legislative process through meetings with congressional representatives.

Mennonite Church USA/MCC’s May 14–15 immigration delegation to Washington, D.C.: (l. to r.) Jaime Lázaro, Virgo Handojo, Nicolas Angustia, Tammy Alexander, David Maldonado, Madeline Maldonado, Iris de León-Hartshorn, Yeudi Xiong-Thao, Cristina Rodríguez Blough, Saulo Padilla, Kuaying Teng and Femi Fatunmbi. (Photo provided)
Mennonite Church USA/MCC’s May 14–15 immigration delegation to Washington, D.C.: (l. to r.) Jaime Lázaro, Virgo Handojo, Nicolas Angustia, Tammy Alexander, David Maldonado, Madeline Maldonado, Iris de León-Hartshorn, Yeudi Xiong-Thao, Cristina Rodríguez Blough, Saulo Padilla, Kuaying Teng and Femi Fatunmbi. (Photo provided)

Cristina Rodríguez Blough, a Mennonite Church USA transformative peacemaking intern who organized the gathering with de León-Hartshorn and Tammy Alexander, senior legislative associate for the MCC Washington Office, describes the delegation as a “powerful experience.”

“We shared food, laughter and also deep concerns regarding our congregations, families and friends,” she says. “I was humbled by the stories and wisdom that leaders brought to the table and before congressional representatives. To see such a diverse and lively group listen to each other and rejoice and mourn together gives me hope that people of faith will come together and speak up to encourage a common sense and compassionate immigration reform.”

Participants spent the first day in the MCC Washington Office learning about the legislative process. A bipartisan bill for comprehensive immigration reform—S. 744: Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act—is currently under consideration in the Senate. Alexander gave presentations on immigration reform proposals and broader church advocacy opportunities. MCC Washington Office staff members helped delegation participants identify talking points and issues to present to their congressional representatives and role-played visits with them.

Members of Mennonite Church USA/MCC’s May 14–15 immigration delegation to Washington, D.C. meet with Tammy Alexander, senior legislative associate for the MCC Washington Office, to learn about immigration reform proposals. (Photo provided)
Members of Mennonite Church USA/MCC’s May 14–15 immigration delegation to Washington, D.C. meet with Tammy Alexander, senior legislative associate for the MCC Washington Office, to learn about immigration reform proposals. (Photo provided)

On the second day, delegation participants visited offices of the Senate and House of Representatives to let their representatives know what they would like to see in the immigration reform bill and why.

“The initial training and coaching were excellent, enabling me to understand the real talking points in the bill,” says Rev. Olufemi Fatunmbi, pastor of Royal Dominion International Church in Los Angeles and a delegation participant, adding that the lobbying role-plays led by MCC staff helped him to “face the officials and make remarks not only with confidence but also respect and boldness.”

Members of the delegation were Nicolas Angustia, senior pastor at Iglesia Unida de Avivamiento, Brooklyn, N.Y.; Fatunmbi, vice president of the African, Belizean and Caribbean Mennonite Mission Association; Handojo; Lázaro; David and Madeline Maldonado, pastors at Iglesia Menonita Arca de Salvación, Ft. Myers, Fla.; Kuaying Teng, denominational minister of Asian ministries for Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Mission Network, St. Catharines, Ont.; Yeudi Xiong-Thao of the Hmong Mennonite Church, Westminster, Colo.; de León-Hartshorn, Portland, Ore.; and Rodríguez Blough, Elkhart, Ind.

Assisting with the delegation were MCC Washington Office staff members Alexander; Rachelle Lyndaker-Schlabach, director; Jesse Epp-Fransen, legislative assistant and communications coordinator; Sterling Miller and Brandon Waggy, domestic policy interns; and Saulo Padilla, director of the Office on Immigration Education for MCC U.S. Peace and Justice Ministries.

(l. to r.) Brandon Waggy, domestic policy intern for the MCC Washington Office; Cristina Rodríguez Blough, participant in Mennonite Church USA/MCC’s May 14–15 immigration delegation to Washington, D.C.; and Saulo Padilla (at right), director of the Office on Immigration Education for MCC U.S. Peace and Justice Ministries, meet and greet U.S. Representative Jackie Walorski (R-2) of Indiana; afterwards they met with members of her staff to talk about immigration reform. (Photo provided)
(l. to r.) Brandon Waggy, domestic policy intern for the MCC Washington Office; Cristina Rodríguez Blough, participant in Mennonite Church USA/MCC’s May 14–15 immigration delegation to Washington, D.C.; and Saulo Padilla (at right), director of the Office on Immigration Education for MCC U.S. Peace and Justice Ministries, meet and greet U.S. Representative Jackie Walorski (R-2) of Indiana; afterwards they met with members of her staff to talk about immigration reform. (Photo provided)

Delegation members met with staff people for the following senators and representatives:

  • California senators Barbara Boxer (D) and Dianne Feinstein (D) and Representative Judy Chu (D-27) (Fatunmbi and Handojo)
  • Colorado senators Michael Bennet (D) and Mark Udall (D) and representatives Ed Perlmutter (D-7) and Doug Lamborn (R-5) (Lázaro and Xiong-Thao)
  • Florida senators Bill Nelson (D) and Marco Rubio (R) and Representative Trey Radel (R-19) (David and Madeline Maldonado)
  • Indiana senators Joe Donnelly (D) and Dan Coats (R) and Representative Jackie Walorski (R-2) (Rodríguez Blough, Padilla, Waggy)
  • New York senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D) and Charles Schumer (D) and Representative Nydia Velázquez (D-7) (Angustia)
  • Oregon senators Jeff Merkley (D) and Ron Wyden (D) and Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-3) (de León-Hartshorn)

“Perhaps this one visit alone isn’t enough to change their final vote, but we were sending a message to Congress that felt like it was being heard,” says Waggy. “We were adding our voices to the numerous others calling out for change, making sure that we cannot be completely ignored.”

Handojo reflected on the experience: “At the community level, people become excited and empowered when they call their senators and representatives. Theologically, like the Ephesians, we learn to understand and deal ‘not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Eph. 6:12, NIV). Often, this dark side of the system has been manifested through the law and bills of the land. Thus, the event gave us opportunity to face and confront the structural sins of this land and strive for peace and justice—to bring healing and hope not only for our community today but also for our generation to come.”

Nicolas Angustia, senior pastor at Iglesia Unida de Avivamiento, Brooklyn, N.Y., and David and Madeline Maldonado, pastors at Iglesia Menonita Arca de Salvación, Ft. Myers, Fla., on the first day of Mennonite Church USA/MCC’s May 14–15 immigration delegation to Washington, D.C. (Photo provided)
Nicolas Angustia, senior pastor at Iglesia Unida de Avivamiento, Brooklyn, N.Y., and David and Madeline Maldonado, pastors at Iglesia Menonita Arca de Salvación, Ft. Myers, Fla., on the first day of Mennonite Church USA/MCC’s May 14–15 immigration delegation to Washington, D.C. (Photo provided)

The immigration delegation was part of several initiatives to encourage congregations to advocate for just and compassionate immigration reform. On May 19, congregations were invited to communicate with their congressional representatives through a “Day of Prayer and Faxing,” which kicked off “40 Days of Scripture and Prayer” leading up to Mennonite Church USA’s biennial denominational convention, to be held July 1–6 in Phoenix. Convention participants will have various opportunities to learn about and engage issues of immigration; the theme of the event is “Citizens of God’s Kingdom: Healed in Hope / Ciudadanos del Reino de Dios: Sanados por la Esperanza.

###

Images available:

See also the immigration delegation photo album on Mennonite Church USA’s Facebook page.

ftp://ftp.e.mennonites.org/public/NewsPhotos/ImmDelegation_DavidMaldonado.jpg
David Maldonado, pastor at Iglesia Menonita Arca de Salvación, Ft. Myers, Fla., and member of Mennonite Church USA/MCC’s May 14–15 immigration delegation to Washington, D.C., outside the office of U.S. Representative Trey Radel (R-19) of Florida. (Photo provided)

ftp://ftp.e.mennonites.org/public/NewsPhotos/ImmDelegation_Iris_Jaime_Nicolas.jpg
(l. to r.) Iris de León-Hartshorn, director of transformative peacemaking for Mennonite Church USA; Jaime Lázaro, journalist and pastor at Iglesia El Centro, Colorado Springs, Colo.; and Nicolas Angustia, senior pastor at Iglesia Unida de Avivamiento, Brooklyn, N.Y., during orientation on the first day of Mennonite Church USA/MCC’s May 14–15 immigration delegation to Washington, D.C. (Photo provided)

ftp://ftp.e.mennonites.org/public/NewsPhotos/ImmDelegation_JaimeLazaro_YeudiXiongThao.JPG
Jaime Lázaro, journalist and pastor at Iglesia El Centro, Colorado Springs, Colo., and Yeudi Xiong-Thao from the Hmong Mennonite Church, Westminster, Colo., outside the office of Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) after a meet-and-greet with the senator and a meeting with a member of his staff to talk about immigration reform as part of a day of Mennonite Church USA faith leader policy visits. (Photo by Jesse Epp-Fransen/MCC)

ftp://ftp.e.mennonites.org/public/NewsPhotos/ImmDelegation_NicolasAngustia_David_and_Madeline%20Maldonado.jpg
Nicolas Angustia, senior pastor at Iglesia Unida de Avivamiento, Brooklyn, N.Y., and David and Madeline Maldonado, pastors at Iglesia Menonita Arca de Salvación, Ft. Myers, Fla., on the first day of Mennonite Church USA/MCC’s May 14–15 immigration delegation to Washington, D.C. (Photo provided)

ftp://ftp.e.mennonites.org/public/NewsPhotos/ImmDelegation_participants.jpg
Mennonite Church USA/MCC’s May 14–15 immigration delegation to Washington, D.C.: (l. to r.) Jaime Lázaro, Virgo Handojo, Nicolas Angustia, Tammy Alexander, David Maldonado, Madeline Maldonado, Iris de León-Hartshorn, Yeudi Xiong-Thao, Cristina Rodríguez Blough, Saulo Padilla, Kuaying Teng and Femi Fatunmbi. (Photo provided)

ftp://ftp.e.mennonites.org/public/NewsPhotos/ImmDelegation_Orientation.jpg
Members of Mennonite Church USA/MCC’s May 14–15 immigration delegation to Washington, D.C. meet with Tammy Alexander, senior legislative associate for the MCC Washington Office, to learn about immigration reform proposals. (Photo provided)

ftp://ftp.e.mennonites.org/public/NewsPhotos/ImmDelegation_Saulo_Brandon_Cristina.jpg
(l. to r.) Saulo Padilla, director of the Office on Immigration Education for MCC U.S. Peace and Justice Ministries; Brandon Waggy, domestic policy intern for the MCC Washington Office; and Cristina Rodríguez Blough, transformative peacemaking intern for Mennonite Church USA and an organizer of Mennonite Church USA/MCC’s May 14–15 immigration delegation to Washington, D.C., outside the office of Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN). (Photo provided)

ftp://ftp.e.mennonites.org/public/NewsPhotos/ImmDelegation_Tammy_Teng_Femi.jpg
Members of Mennonite Church USA/MCC’s May 14–15 immigration delegation to Washington, D.C. meet with Tammy Alexander, senior legislative associate for the MCC Washington Office, to learn about broader church advocacy opportunities. From left, Alexander; Kuaying Teng, denominational minister of Asian ministries for Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Mission Network; and Olufemi Fatunmbi, vice president of the African, Belizean and Caribbean Mennonite Mission Association, Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo provided)

ftp://ftp.e.mennonites.org/public/NewsPhotos/ImmDelegation_Virgo_and_Iris.jpg
(l. to r.) Virgo Handojo, senior pastor at Grace Indonesian Christian Fellowship, Sierra Madre, Calif., and Iris de León-Hartshorn, director of transformative peacemaking for Mennonite Church USA, during orientation on the first day of Mennonite Church USA/MCC’s May 14–15 immigration delegation to Washington, D.C. (Photo provided)

ftp://ftp.e.mennonites.org/public/NewsPhotos/ImmDelegation_w_Jackie%20Walorski.jpg
(l. to r.) Brandon Waggy, domestic policy intern for the MCC Washington Office; Cristina Rodríguez Blough, transformative peacemaking intern for Mennonite Church USA and an organizer of Mennonite Church USA /MCC’s May 14–15 immigration delegation to Washington, D.C.; and Saulo Padilla (at right), director of the Office on Immigration Education for MCC U.S. Peace and Justice Ministries, meet and greet U.S. Representative Jackie Walorski (R-2) of Indiana; afterwards they met with members of her staff to talk about immigration reform. (Photo provided)