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Hope and Gratitude in the Fight for Immigration Reform: A Reflection

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This time last year, I was giving thanks for the possibility of a new start for the immigration debate.

The 2012 presidential election was fresh in everyone’s minds, and various Republican leaders, nursing their wounds from the thrashing they’d received among Latino voters in the election, were speaking about the urgency of passing comprehensive immigration reform. Those Republican leaders included Speaker of the House John Boehner.

It appeared that their defeats at the polls had provoked a moment of introspection, along with promises of bipartisanship.

But perhaps we underestimated the depth of the Republican Party’s commitment to block President Barack Obama’s second-term domestic agenda. We underestimated their near-rabid opposition to Obamacare. And we underestimated their determination to continue to ignore the Latino vote, no matter how badly they need it to retake the White House. The result: the atmosphere in Washington is so contaminated that at present it’s hard to imagine that any form of bipartisan cooperation is possible.

A year ago, I gave thanks that I hadn’t been totally consumed by cynicism, and that I retained hopes of a resolution on immigration.

Today, in spite of everything, I still harbor those hopes. While a chorus of Republican leaders have been rushing to throw cold water on any talk of immigration reform, Boehner continues to assure reporters that reform isn’t dead. And Obama is saying that he’s open to discussing the piecemeal reform Republicans are proposing, as long as the more complicated pieces—like the path to citizenship—don’t fall by the wayside.

The third-ranking House Republican, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, said on Sunday that reform would move—though he wasn’t sure when.

Boehner and McCarthy’s statements would be more encouraging if they were accompanied by some sort of concrete action to start debate this year, and complete it as soon as possible—before the electoral season bombards us with criticisms, attacks, and yet more promises.

I give thanks every day—but on this Thanksgiving week, I will give thanks for things from the personal to the collective.

I give thanks for being able to get up after each blow and vicissitude, battered but still standing. For being able to see, hear and feel. For retaining my capacity for surprise. For every time I look down at my hands and remember those of my mother, no longer with us, or reach out with them to touch those of my father.

I give thanks for being part of a movement fighting for a just and necessary cause, and for being part of a struggle that has allowed me to see the best and worst of humanity. The best prevails. I give thanks for having crossed paths with immigrants who every day serve as models of grace under all types of difficulty, including the daily threat of family separation.

I give thanks to them, for teaching me the importance of perserverance in the face of adversity, and for serving as living examples of putting on a brave face in discouraging times.

I give thanks for all the leaders who, for decades, have fought for immigration reform tooth and nail. They are models of constancy and optimism.

In particular, for one of those leaders, Eliseo Medina, for being an example of fight and fortitude.

Medina, who recently stepped down as Secretary-Treasurer of the SEIU, is a veteran of infinite labor and civil rights battles. As of this writing, he has gone nearly two weeks without food, alongside other activists who represent the many constituencies pushing for immigration reform.

These activists aren’t taking the heat off the House of Representatives (an institution for which, to be honest, I give no thanks at all).

But I give thanks because the best God can give us is one day at a time, and because as long as there’s life there is hope.

Last Friday, Eliseo Medina and his fellow fasters camped out on the National Mall received a visit from Vice President Joe Biden, who assured them that “come hell or high water, we’re going to win this.”

Medina declared that “Three generations of Medinas—my daughters and granddaughter—fasted with me here at the National Mall. I hope that we won’t need another generation fasting for immigration reform.”

On this Thanksgiving, we pray that will be the case.

Also watch the video, narrated by Dara Lind: