Guest Commentary: The 5 Rules of Recess
By Rev. Beau Underwood
As a kid, the school day revolved around recess. The bell rang, the books closed, and we bolted out of the building and onto the playground. For a few brief minutes anything was possible. Imaginations ran wild, transporting us to far off lands and transforming us into superheroes and sports stars. We cemented friendships and started fights; we formed alliances and enemies. And while our teachers and parents assumed that math, science, reading, and social studies structured our day, in reality our lives were defined by what transpired during recess.
Congress is in recess during the month of August. While many assume they have taken an extended vacation, nothing could be further from the truth. Recess is just as important now as it was when we were kids, but the rules have changed. Here are five things you need to know about the next month to support immigration reform:
- Members of Congress are really listening. Yes, really.
There’s a deep cynicism about what happens in Washington, D.C. We assume special interests control everything and that it takes a whole lot of money to have any influence. The common good is often sacrificed for the sake of political gain. While too often true, it doesn’t mean your representatives aren’t listening. Members of Congress care about being re-elected, which requires convincing a majority of you — the voters — to support their candidacy. Most congressional offices track constituent feedback, which means that when you speak out in support of commonsense immigration reform, your representative is listening. Really.
- Anti-reform forces are mobilizing.
Opponents of immigration reform are doing everything they can to influence legislators during recess: by pouring millions of dollars into in-district radio and TV ads, and by organizing anti-immigration reform voices into action to speak at town halls throughout the country.
- Timing is critical.
While the Senate has already passed bipartisan reform legislation, the process has just begun in the House of Representatives — and the outcome is far from certain. While the numbers in favor of reform are increasing, many House members have yet to support an earned path to citizenship for our undocumented brothers and sisters.
- The economic costs of inaction are high …
According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the Senate-offered legislation would reduce our deficit by hundreds of millions of dollars. Experts have estimated that immigration reform would be an economic catalyst, significantly growing our economy, increasing productivity, and creating jobs. Every day we wait is a missed opportunity to provide our economy with this must-have economic boost.
- … But the moral costs are even greater.
Every human being reflects the image of the Creator (Genesis 1:27) and is a precious child of God. This is a theological reality that has nothing to do with national boundaries or documentation status. We need a system that fosters respect for the rule of law, but it must also respect the God-given dignity of every person. The status quo is morally unacceptable. Too many people are suffering; too many families are being torn apart.
If we want to pass immigration reform, then we can’t rest over the next month. We need pastors to talk about the biblical call to “welcome the stranger.” When our representatives hold town halls, coffees, and other events, we have to make sure they hear from people who represent the majority of Americans in support of immigration reform. We must remind our friends of the moral and economic costs of the current system.
Immigration reform is about imagining a better world where children don’t live in fear of their parents being taken away, all our brothers and sisters can fully participate in our economy, and we can better honor the contributions immigrants make to our communities and society.
Unlike the childhood fantasies that we acted out during recess, this break in the congressional calendar is an opportunity to turn our hopes into reality. You can help make that happen by contacting your representative today and letting them know where you stand.
This recess isn’t about fun and games. There’s a lot more at stake.
Rev. Beau Underwood is Director of Campaigns and Advocacy at Sojourners. He also works part-time at a Washington, D.C., congregation.