No matter what side of the aisle you’re on, fixing our broken immigration system is a win-win. Immigration reform is not only good policy, but it is good politics, and the individuals Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and I met today near the U.S. Capitol Building reinforced the need to act. These brave immigration reform supporters have been fasting without food since November 12, to call attention to the human suffering caused by our broken immigration system.
Fast for Families is an organization of faith-based, immigrant rights and labor leaders who came together, calling on Congress to take action toward needed, sensible immigration reform legislation that includes a pathway to citizenship.
Some fasters like veteran immigration reform advocate Eliseo Medina, who after doctor’s orders ended his 22-day fast, have relayed their fast to other immigration reform supporters including members of congress. Others like Rudy Lopez, one of the fasters I met today, has completed 21 days of fasting and vows to continue to protest and fast. “We love this country; we are proud Americans and aspiring Americas,” said Rudy.
“I want to live in a country where the words ‘justice’ and ‘opportunity’ actually mean something,” said another faster. As I was sitting there with Eliseo, Rudy and other fasters who have friends and families who would directly benefit from immigration legislation, I couldn’t help but to think about the many students across this country who inspired the drafting of the DREAM Act. They continued to share stories of hundreds of people dying in our deserts each year trying to cross the borders as undocumented immigrants.
And I was reminded about one of the most poignant days I’ve experienced in my tenure as Secretary. In September, I spent a day in Columbus, New Mexico – situated right on our border with Mexico. There, children born in an American hospital to Mexican parents cross the border every day to go to school, sometimes rising before dawn to make sure they arrive to class on time.
The Columbus community has welcomed them for more than 60 years, and despite the journey those American children have to take every day, Columbus Elementary School has near-perfect attendance. Much like the fasters I met today, I saw in both the students and educators in Columbus that same dedication and that profound understanding of the importance of educational opportunity. It is something I will never forget.
If lawmakers in Washington took some time to visit the Fast for Families tent or the Columbus, New Mexico, community, I have no doubt that partisan politics regarding this particular issue would dissolve. We need legislators to work together to reform immigration, so families who just want to have a better life and contribute to America’s economy can do so, together.
The Obama Administration remains committed to working hard to achieve commonsense immigration reform. We have already taken unprecedented efforts to transform the immigration enforcement system into one that focuses on public safety, border security and the integrity of our immigration system through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). But we know that DACA doesn’t reach everyone; the only permanent solution is for Congress to pass immigration legislation.
I am very inspired by the commitment and passion of these fasters and the Fast for Families’ goal to continue this hard work until comprehensive immigration reform is indeed a reality. I also remain encouraged by the undocumented students I have met – many of whom have been in this country since they were young children and consider America their home – who just want the opportunity to go to college or serve in the armed forces.
I join the fasters in a call to Congress to pass commonsense immigration reform. I hope that their mission can be fueled by the words of Nelson Mandela, an exemplary leader so present in my mind today: “It always seems impossible, until it’s done.”
Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education