You should write to your congressman! Why, you may ask? Because you could actually make a difference in this country when it comes to immigration reform or other issues you care about. I finally learned this after almost ten years of living in the U.S. And maybe it’s a right of democracy that’s taken for granted by too many.
Last week I was invited by We Belong Together (Women for Common Sense Immigration Reform) and Moms Rising to visit Capitol Hill and lobby for immigration reform that will be fair to women and won’t separate families. We wore fedora hats for the Fedoras for Fairness Campaign, tipping our hats to politicians who have made a positive impact on this issue.
That visit changed my perspective of what exactly politics in the United States are about. Many of us may hail from countries, societies and backgrounds where we learned that those in power have all the power! And we may have grown up used to politicians doing whatever they darn well pleased, so we stopped thinking we could make a difference. And we stopped trying.
Read Related: Families Torn Apart: The High Cost of Immigration
Well, one thing is certain—whether the politicians in the House of Representatives or in the Senate care about what the people say or not—they do listen. They have to! They are our representatives! And together at least we can try to make a difference. Maybe I can’t by myself, and neither can you, but together… now that´s a different story!
I used to live oblivious to the fact that we, the people, can actually go speak to congressmen and at least try to affect them. By telling our stories or someone else’s, by showing up in such great numbers that they simply cannot turn their backs on us. That’s what history is made of. And that day in Capitol Hill made me very grateful that I live in a country where that kind of dialogue is still possible.
During that packed day I met incredibly strong and interesting women of different ages and backgrounds, but we all shared one common goal, for our voices to be heard. And this is what I learned from some of the women who I shared the day with.
REINA, AN UNDOCUMENTED DOMESTIC WORKER WITH CANCER Reina, a 40-something mother from Honduras moved to the US eight years ago, the same number of years that she has not been able to see her daughter. She hardly speaks English, she lives in a room in Little Havana, Miami, and she works cleaning houses. As she spoke with representatives such as Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, in her native Spanish, she cried telling her story. She has an incurable but treatable type of cancer. That was her reason for coming to the U.S. She needs chemotherapy, but the only way to get it is by having legal papers to live here—papers she can’t get because she can’t prove she´s working. Her doctor has told her that to go back to her country is a death sentence, since there is not adequate treatment for her there. In the meantime, the goodness of a doctor, her friends and her modest income all pay for her meds.
DANIELA SACZEK, A YOUNG WOMAN ON A MISSION Daniela is not your average youth in her early 20s, still searching for her calling in life—she is living it. I was impressed by her spunk, her determination and her way with words. She spoke to the representatives or their aides with aplomb, and was very much on top of things as she told us the exact moment when we should be calling members of congress to affect their vote on the immigration bill. I know this country has many young women like Daniela, movers and shakers that hold our future in their hands.
ARLENE AND JANET, REMEMBERING THEIR IMMIGRATION DAYS By the end of the day, these two fabulous ladies from the National Council of Jewish Women and I had become friends. They recognized that Jews were once immigrants too, in search of a better tomorrow, and they advocated for the rights of women and children when deciding how exactly the immigration bill will read. Arlene and Janet both are volunteers, and spend upwards of 40 hours a week on their volunteer work—nevermind that Janet also has a full-time job, a husband and kids.
SUSIE, A 28-YEAR OLD WITH MS Susie was my roommate. This 28-year old left behind in California a 1-year old baby and her husband, in order to lobby for a common-sense immigration reform. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 16. She told me in Spanish how each and every day she knows something could change for her, healthwise. MS is a degenerative and chronic disease. She recounted how her self-esteem and even her moods are affected by knowing she could end up being a burden for her family. The only way she felt she could do something was to speak up for others—for the undocumented workers her family takes care of on their farm in Montana, and for the women with health conditions like hers, who live and work in this country but cannot obtain paid health insurance because they are undocumented.
HOW CAN YOU MAKE A DIFFERENCE? Even if immigration reform is not your issue, join an organization that supports a cause you strongly believe in. There is strength in numbers. Whether it is supporting freedom of choice in abortion, gay marriage, gun control, or any other issue, there is a group for that! They will guide you as to where the issue stands and what you can do to affect it. To write a letter to your congressman, follow the instructions on the website of the House of Representatives and be assured that he or she will receive it. No matter how flawed we complain our system is—and it has many faults—if we use it, it works.