From December 10-12, about 80 PICO leaders from around the country—including three leaders and two OCO staff—gathered together for the Faith and Families Summit in Washington, D.C., to give our national leaders another perspective on the fiscal cliff showdown and citizenship. We conducted research meetings with representatives from the Senate, Congress and White House.  I want to highlight what was the most important outcome for me on the trip:

Our central message for each research meeting was pushing for:

  • No structural changes to Medicaid
  • No cuts based on the most vulnerable individuals
  • No harmful changes for the poor and the most vulnerable
  • A citizenship pathway for the 11 million undocumented immigrants throughout the country and the re-entry population

Here’s a recap of our research meeting with Senate health policy staffers:

First of all, having two representatives from both parties was a very powerful experience for the leaders. At the same time, listening to them respond to our leaders’ questions was also very interesting. One of the leaders said that one staffer never looked her in her eyes when she asked the questions. Her answers about avoiding cuts that would hurt the poor were, “Unfortunately, hard decisions must be made.” So most likely the potential direction her boss would take won’t be in our favor. The leaders, however, made sure she knew our position and expectations about their hard decisions by letting them know our power, as we just demonstrated through civic engagement and the 650,000 votes we brought to the polls on November 6.

One of the leaders said that one staffer never looked her in her eyes when she asked the questions. Her answers about avoiding cuts that would hurt the poor were, “Unfortunately, hard decisions must be made.” So most likely the potential direction her boss would take won’t be in our favor. The leaders, however, made sure she knew our position and expectations about their hard decisions by letting them know our power, as we just demonstrated through civic engagement and the 650,000 votes we brought to the polls on November 6.

Leaders felt that the other staffer did a better job responding to the questions. Even though she wasn’t able to give us any specifics, she was still more open and less vague with her answers. In general, I believe both of them left being clear about our message-that we aren’t negotiating the cuts based on the backs of the most vulnerable in our communities.

Here’s a recap of our meeting with Angela Arboleda, Senior Advisor for Hispanic and Asian Affairs for Sen. Harry Reid, and Kate Leone, Reid’s Senior Health Counsel:

Seven leaders attended this meeting. Both issues where put on the table, but the most powerful part was OCO youth leader Leslie Saucedo’s testimony. For the first time throughout my experience as an organizer, the tissue box had to be passed around the room as Leslie touched everyone’s heart and made people cry left and right. She shared a portion of her life when she was 13 years old going through two traumatic experiences-the first being when Leslie and her undocumented mother had to travel to Mexico because her grandmother was dying.  Shortly after passing away they tried to return back to the United States to reunite with her father and two sisters, both U.S. citizens.  On their way back, her mom was detained by the Border Patrol and thrown in jail, everything unraveling in front of her eyes.

For the first time throughout my experience as an organizer, the tissue box had to be passed around the room as Leslie touched everyone’s heart and made people cry left and right.

The second experience was when Leslie’s mom was pulled over in Alameda by a sheriff due to a traffic incident.  Leslie was in the car and started crying, already traumatized because she believed that her mom would be separated from her once again and deported (over 1 million immigrants have been deported due to traffic stops thanks to the “Secure Communities Program”).  She moved the heart of both Angela and Kelly to the point were they both pledged to bring her message to Senator Reid and make sure that in the next 4-6 weeks he would work with Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) to start the conversation around a bill for citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people in this country. They will work for a bipartisan team regarding this issue. We asked for a public statement on his position and efforts. In response, they promised to follow up on that and make sure the position would be made public as we requested.

We asked for a public statement on his position and efforts. In response, they promised to follow up on that and make sure the position would be made public as we requested.

We had a meeting with Chris Lee, a representative of Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s office, and he practically didn’t commit to anything other than bringing our questions and concerns to the congresswoman. Of course, he said that, as always, she is on our side.  He told us that the League of Women Voters was there that day and that they have a stronger position than ours on the budget.  He addressed the fact the, as a descendant of immigrants, he understands the needs of citizenship legislation. But he said the responsibility to take action mainly falls on the Senate, not necessarily on the House of Representatives. We pushed back by letting him know how important was the congresswoman’s leadership regarding the Black and Latino Caucus and the role she could play on that issue.

Lastly, we had a meeting with the United We Dream directors, which was a very touching moment for me personally.  Meeting with them made me feel like we are heading in the right direction and with the right allies.

Overall, I left D.C. with a lot of hope because of the impact our leaders made across the board—at the Senate, Congress and White House.  We have a huge opportunity to continue building our power.  The window of opportunity around citizenship is there and PICO is taking that as the center of our work in 2013 in coalition with the UWD organization.