This past month, four University of Dallas students traveled to Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress on behalf of immigrants as part of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) March 23 to 26 Spring Lobby Weekend.
UD students Andrea Saldivar, Celeste Gomez, Gricelda Jasso Sardina and Sergio Barrera joined 500 other young adults from all over the country to participate in workshops to learn about this issue and engage in political activism, according to the FCNL website.
Associate Professor of Spanish Dr. Jose Espericueta is on the board for the Dallas Peace and Justice Center (DPJC), which is where he learned about this training opportunity. Espericueta said that the center tackles issue such as peace advocacy, work and educational opportunities and climate change.
Espericueta said that when he learned that the DPJC helps defray travel costs for students to attend this weekend, he recognized the opportunity for UD students and promoted interest through word of mouth and some signs around campus.
The UD students who went did not have to pay anything, as all the necessary funding was raised through DPJC, Sardina said.
This is an annual event, and each year the FCNL focuses on a different issue. This year the issue was immigration. The participants lobbied Congress for laws that would “protect the rights and safety of immigrants, migrants, refugees and their families,” according to the FCNL website. FCNL is not aligned with any political group, but is a nonpartisan nonprofit that “seeks to live our values of integrity, simplicity, and peace as we build relationships across political divides to move policies forward,” according to the FCNL website.
“What I love about [this opportunity] is it put students in touch with their elected representatives,” Espericueta said in an interview. “[Democracy] is not just about voting, it’s about participating and getting to know your elected officials.”
According to Saldivar, the first three days of the Lobby Weekend were primarily workshops and talks that the participants could choose between based on their personal interests, including topics such as the “criminalizing narrative” about immigrants and the immigration issue’s relationship to First Amendment rights. To wrap up the long weekend, Tuesday was devoted to the actual lobbying. Each participant went to see their respective representatives, or more commonly, their representative’s staff.
The FNCL instructed the participants to advocate that “in the short term congress should immediately focus on legislation that rejects increased spending on detention, deportation, and border militarization, expands oversight of existing enforcement policies and spending, and invest in non-restrictive community based alternatives to detention, rather than locking up children and others,” according to literature given to the attendees before they met officials.
Barrera said that he and Sardina both have the same representative, Sylvia Garcia. They had an easier conversation with Garcia’s staff member, Patrick Bond, because Garcia’s political views on immigration were similar to those of FCNL. But Barrera said other Texan participants had “more difficult conversations,” because the representative and staff “would [either] not take it … seriously, or they would just listen and then move on, and ignore it.”
Gomez’s representative, Senator Lance Gooden, had a differing stance regarding immigration than the FCNL group.
But Gomez said that “the staff member seemed to really take into account what we were saying, because there were a couple people who were DACA recipients or knew DACA recipients. So he did pay attention and he looked interested, and he asked questions and he said he would do his best to try to talk to the representative and see if he could get some changes.”
Saldivar said that one of the speakers was Ashley Feasley, the director of policy from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who shared her experiences working with immigrants in America. Saldivar said it was “great” to see a Catholic speaker at this event.
The students expressed their disapproval of the way mainstream media portrays immigration.
“Immigrants are really dehumanized,” Saldivar said.
“Ignorance is very powerful … what the media shows isn’t the whole story,” Barrera agreed.
Gomez was appreciative of the way Republicans and Democrats worked together at this training.
“There were Republicans and Democrats who wanted change within our immigration system because it [is] very broken,” Gomez said. “It is a human issue: it’s how people are being abused and mistreated, especially children at detention centers at borders. We need to keep an open mind, and start looking at them as people, as who they are, instead of just choosing a side because it goes with your [political] beliefs.”
“I think we need to have an open mind when it comes to policies; it’s not a partisan debate, it’s just human dignity,” Saldivar said.