On Tuesday, March 28th over 160 people, representing 78 districts and the District of Columbia, gathered to talk with their representatives about pertinent issues and legislation related to forcibly displaced people on the eighth annual Advocacy Day. Participants were inspired to advocate from a variety of experiences and circumstances. In Illinois, a Jesuit priest, parishioners, JRS/USA staff members, and students from St. Ignatius College Prep came together to form their advocacy group.
After a student introduced himself to the staffers from Senator Durbin’s office, he described how his background as a first-generation child of Lithuanian parents motivates him to speak out on behalf of those on the move.
He flagged the recent restrictions to asylum that the Biden Administration has proposed in place of Title 42, which is to be rescinded in May. The student noted how the CBP One app is difficult to use and assumes people seeking asylum have easy access to a smartphone.
He also detailed the discriminatory components of the app, which is only available in English and Spanish. Facial identification within the app struggles to recognize darker skin tones.
“We don’t want to see an app replace the ability to seek asylum in the US,” one of the staffers responded, agreeing to investigate the additional restrictions the Biden Administration has proposed.
In addition to restoring and protecting asylum at the US border, advocates urged their representatives to support refugee assistance programs and cosponsor the Mental Health in International Development and Humanitarian Settings (MINDS) Act.
Advocacy Day was also a chance for community members to strengthen relationships with their representatives. In Seattle, a group from St. Joseph’s Parish is sponsoring two people seeking asylum. Mark Petterson, the Director of Social Justice and Communications at the Parish, spoke about the difficulties the asylees experienced trying to access basic resources and legal representation in a meeting with a staffer from Senator Patty Murray’s (D-WA) office.
The staffer sympathized with the difficult experience and gave Petterson a list of resources and funding opportunities that she thought would help. She then asked more questions about what was happening on the ground in Seattle and how the Senator might be able to support those groups doing the work.
“Participating in Advocacy Day was an incredible opportunity to put our shared faith values into action. Discussing our support for asylum with congressional representatives from Washington state energized me and our parish to continue to work for our migrant friends and neighbors.” Petterson said.
For new and seasoned advocates alike, it can be daunting to talk with representatives about the complex issues surrounding
displacement. But as Giulia McPherson, Director of Advocacy and Operations at JRS/USA, said recently in a conversation about advocacy work, “you don’t have to be an expert…showing up, that makes a difference.”
Luis Gonzalez Villasmil, a student at John Carroll University, jumped at the opportunity to speak with representatives about issues he holds close to him. “As a Venezuelan asylee in the United States, it would be my honor to advocate for my fellow asylum seekers and refugees in Ohio,” he said, ahead of the event.
While this year’s Advocacy Day has concluded, JRS/USA pushes year-round for positive legislative change that will benefit the lives refugees and forcibly displaced people.
You can join this effort by visiting our advocacy web page to send messages to your representatives and sign up for our Action Alerts.
Interested in forming an Action Team on your campus or parish? Click here to access our Refugee Action Team Toolkit to get started.