It is a weird thing leaving a job you love.
After 18 years in the immigration movement, 14 of them leading the Forum, I suppose I should share lessons learned, tout accomplishments, offer a critique of the moment we face.
That’s not where my head is.
Instead, I find myself going back to moments that inspired me:
- That late night in 2005 at the Massachusetts State House corralling lawmakers with the O.G. Dreamers as they advocated for themselves and their families with determination and grace. Who continue their fight as the case that will likely end the DACA program winds through the courts.
- The church basement in New Bedford, MA, after a massive 2007 immigration raid detained hundreds of workers, many of whom were mothers of young children. The outpouring of support – food, diapers, clothes, money – proved to me the American public to be more compassionate than America’s immigration system.
- A Catholic church in my hometown, Salinas, CA, packed to the gills in 2010 with farm workers to hear Congressman Luis Gutierrez. Linked in my mind to a scene in Ron Howard’s new documentary about our friend Chef José Andrés and the heroic work of World Central Kitchen — interviewing the farm workers who put food on our tables but, at the height of the pandemic, depended on WCK for their own food.
- The sight of over 250,000 immigrants and their allies gathered on the National Mall peacefully calling for immigration reform in March of 2010.
- The leadership that emerged after Arizona’s SB1070 law. In Alabama and Arkansas, immigrant-led organizations were launched that continue to thrive to this day. In Utah, conservative leaders stepped forward as powerful, committed long-term advocates of immigrants and immigration.
- A December 2012 event at the National Press Club where conservative faith, law enforcement and business leaders stood in support of citizenship for the undocumented.
- The courage of immigrants to fight back against the Trump administration. The courage of Trump voters to change their mind.
- The leadership (and friendship) of those in Storm Lake, Twin Falls, Colorado Springs, Dallas, Tulsa, Pasco, Salt Lake, Nashville, Orange County, Indy, Garden City, Uvalda, El Paso, Akron, Manch-Vegas, Montgomery, and beyond.
- The smile of women who graduated from an English language class, knowing they could now apply for promotions. The pride of a new citizen in Miami who completed the naturalization process with the help of her employer.
- The leadership of veterans and others to evacuate and resettle Afghan allies. The questions they asked when the Biden administration expelled Haitian migrants months later. And, now, their fierce support for Ukrainian refugees.
- The life-saving contributions of immigrant workers over the course of the pandemic.
- The pride and brilliance with which my colleagues took on new challenges.
Thinking about these moments, and so many more like them, I see two consistent elements.
First, the people involved went through some sort of change. Immigrants thought about their roles differently. Native-born thought about immigrants differently. Each thought about their community, their friends and families, their nation, themselves, differently. And they became leaders.
More importantly, they were invited to change.
Whether a Dreamer or a farm worker deciding to speak for herself, or a conservative woman realizing her voice needed to be heard, they were not hectored into changing. People were given opportunities to see they were not alone, to have their questions and concerns answered. They were invited.
In the times we live in, regardless of where we are on the political spectrum, it is hard not to be angry all the time. At everything.
As justified as the anger may be, it prevents us from offering invitations to change.
Which brings me to the reason why I loved my time at the National Immigration Forum.
From Board to staff, we worked hard. We had fun. We navigated the peaks with the valleys. And, yes, at times, we got angry. But there was always an organizational curiosity to our work. We always wanted to know what we didn’t know. Every day was a winsome opportunity to change. Ourselves or the people or organizations around us. Which made every day the best day to be at work.
So, as I close out my time at the Forum, thank you for the friendship, the support and thank you for the invitation to change.