Author: Wendy Hahn, Guest Blogger & Advocate
On September 5, 2018 Washington D.C. was blazing hot with heat indexes exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The extreme heat seemed a fitting backdrop for the topic we had gathered to discuss: immigration. In the basement of Lutheran Church of the Reformation, Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area (LSS/NCA) and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS) hosted 34 attendees from D.C., Maryland, and Virginia for an advocacy orientation session.
Amid the largest refugee crisis since World War II, President Trump had decreased the 2018 Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions to 45,000 persons. The situation was worse than the numbers indicated though—the United States was on track to admit fewer than 20,000 refugees by the end of Fiscal Year 2018 (the lowest number ever in the history of the programs). Constituents like me had left our church communities to voice our opposition to this practice. We prepared to ask Senators and Representatives to recommend a return to 90,000 persons the following year.
Another area of concern included advocating for the passage of Senate and House Bills, which would grant 4,000 Special Immigration Visas (SIVs) to Afghans who served the United States in counter-terrorism efforts abroad. These SIVs were long overdue; they represented unfulfilled promises to Afghan nationals who risked their lives, and the lives of their loved ones, to work in U.S. embassies and on U.S. bases.
Like many of the volunteers present, I wanted to do more than make phone calls and send emails to members of Congress. Congregations were waiting to support immigrant families who had been barred from entering the U.S. Advocacy, explaining the situation to congressional offices face-to-face, was a next step in our political involvement.
After hearing updates on the latest statistics and legislation, Refugee Advocacy Day organizers broke us into groups according to our states and districts to prepare for visits with our senators and representatives. On the way to Sen. Mark Warner’s office (D-VA), Amy Meli, a LSS/NCA staffer, reminded my group of nervous constituents that members of Congress “work for us.”
Inside Warner’s office, Nadia Fitzcharles, one of our group members, told two staffers about her most recent trip to Cairo, Egypt where she met Syrians refugees. Nadia worried about their desperation to flee violence, which could lead them to board overcrowded or inadequate boats prone to capsizing on the Mediterranean Sea. Within my small group, Pastor Phil Carl resided in Republican Barbara Comstock’s Virginia 10th District. Although her office declined to meet with him, Pastor Carl offered his pleas to admit immigrants to a receptive Maxine Waters (D-CA) in the elevator of the Cannon Office Building.
After leaving Sen. Tim Kaine’s office (D-VA), I had a quiet moment with LSS/NCA staffer Autumn Orme during which we wondered when immigration became a partisan issue. Talking about the hope for bipartisanship, we decided to visit the late Senator John McCain’s office in the Hart Building. We arrived in front of the placard for SR218 with an American and an Arizona flag flanking it. There were no former McCain staffers waiting to meet us, no appointments scheduled, but the pause felt necessary to pay quiet respects to a statesman who had cosponsored the Afghan Allies Protection Amendments Act of 2018. We hoped his example could inspire others to reach across the aisle.