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Visiting 1600 Pennsylvania Ave: A great cloud of witnesses

Noel Castellanos

Reflecting on the past 12 years that I’ve been involved at a national level in trying to change our broken immigration system, I have often felt alone. I vividly remember many instances when I called or visited prominent pastors to discuss my concerns about our current immigration policy, only to be told that this was not an issue with which they were ready to engage.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”—Hebrews 12:1

My experience during this past Holy Week in our nation’s capital was 180 degrees different—and truly miraculous. Not only did a small group of Christian leaders get to meet personally with the President of the United States to talk about immigration, but we were there representing a burgeoning movement of believers—a great cloud of witnesses—who are fully committed and united in our efforts to see a new, just, common-sense immigration policy become the law of our land. Immediately.

I was so proud to be sitting in the Oval Office next to one of the officers of CCDA, JoAnne Lyon, who also serves as the general superintendent of the Wesleyan denomination, and with Luis Cortes, who serves as the president of the largest Hispanic Community Development organization in the nation and on our CCDA Ambassadors Council. Both of these dear friends have been champions for immigration reform for years. Suzii Paynter, Dr. Russell Moore, and Dieter Uchtdorf also passionately communicated their constituents’ commitment to passing immigration reform. While the six of us were there in the flesh, many others were present with us, too.

Among the great cloud of witnesses who were there in spirit was the Evangelical Immigration Table, which has become one of the most significant witnesses in the nation, advocating tirelessly for our immigrant brothers and sisters. Of course, our brothers and sisters from Sojourners, NAE, World Relief, NHCLC, NaLec, among others, also have played a vital role in mobilizing both immigrant and non-immigrant church leaders to engage this issue.

Also present were the voices of millions of undocumented immigrants, who are members of our congregations and residents of our communities. This reality was brought home for me in a powerful way, as one of the White House staff members at our meeting was a young Mexican-American man from my neighborhood of La Villita in Chicago. Ultimately, it is young men and women just like this who are waiting for an opportunity to contribute to our nation’s well-being through their work and service. They motivate me to keep working for reform, and I’m privileged to lift up their stories and struggles.

With this great cloud of witnesses standing beside us, we spoke frankly with President Obama about the need to put a stop to the deportations that are devastating families in our communities. Each of us present in the Oval Office shared stories of pain and heartbreak that have caused us to speak out boldly on behalf of our brothers and sisters. Finally, we strategized together on how to leverage the next few months to move GOP congressional leaders to get immigration legislation introduced that will address the injustices of our current system.

Ultimately, we stressed the moral urgency of seeing Congress act now—prioritizing people over politics and putting our nation’s well-being over party loyalty. It almost goes without saying that we urged the President to do everything in his power to work toward passing new immigration legislation.

At the end of our meeting, President Obama asked me to conclude our meeting in prayer. We all stood and held hands in a circle—leaders from diverse theological and political backgrounds—united in prayer for Almighty God to move in the minds and hearts of our legislators to act justly on behalf of those on the margins of our society. I prayed for the President and his family. I prayed for Congress. I prayed for our undocumented brothers and sisters.

Finally, I prayed for our nation—that we would truly be a nation of liberty and justice for all.

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