August recess. District work period. Town hall palooza. There are many names for this time in August when Congress leaves DC to go home for four weeks. But in the end it doesn’t matter what you call it, what really matters is who shows up.
NAFSA member Patti Jones from Macomb, Illinois showed up. Recently retired, Patti has been a member of NAFSA for over thirty years, serving in a variety of leadership positions. She is currently an Academy coach for NAFSA Region V. Patti went to a town hall hosted by her representative Aaron Schock, a Republican representing Illinois’ 18th congressional district. It was only the week before that Representative Schock made news for coming out in support of a pathway to citizenship at a town hall.
What made Patti go to the town hall?
“This issue personally touches me not only because I’m an international educator, but because my son was born in Iran and we adopted him. We faced many legal issues throughout the adoption and had to navigate complicated immigration law. Because of this, I watch the DREAM Act and the immigration debate very closely and I know how it can affect children.”
Representative Schock is just one of several members of Congress who have come out in support of a pathway to citizenship in recent weeks at town halls. This kind of sea change of support doesn’t happen automatically. Patti Jones know this. Even though Schock recently declared his support, she went to the town hall to show her support and speak out for immigration and international education.
And it wasn’t as intimidating as Patti thought it could be. She read NAFSA materials on town halls, including sample questions, and a video from NAFSA member Ashley Johnson that included three tips:
What is Patti’s advice for going to a town hall?
“Listen to NAFSA!” Patti said. “Everything I did that was recommended from ConnectingOurWorld.org helped me. Also, if people don’t feel comfortable going and asking a question, they should know that many times there are opportunities to write down a question and send it to the front of the room. That was the format of the town hall I went to.”
After the town hall ended, Patti introduced herself to a member of Representative Schock’s staff. She plans on continuing the relationship and scheduling a meeting the next time she is in Washington, DC.
“Going to a town hall gives you a true insight into the person who is representing you,” said Patti. “It also gives you insight into the people in the audience, how amazingly diverse your district is, and how important it is for NAFSA to speak with one voice on the issues that are important to us.”
Members of Congress say time and time again that their own constituents are the most powerful lobbyists. If they don’t hear from us, they will hear only from the anti-immigrant groups, and that could negatively impact the future of immigration legislation when the House returns to work in September. We could lose the strides we’ve made so far in creating a commonsense process that advances international education, creates an efficient and earned pathway to citizenship for the 11 million men, women, and children who live in our communities, and improves the face we present to the world.
If your representative hasn’t come out in favor of commonsense immigration reform yet, you have every right as a private citizen to go to a town hall and question him or her about it. If your representative is supportive, you can go to a town hall to say thank you - they need to know they have constituent support during what will be a very tough immigration debate in the House this fall. If you would like to do more, you can send an e-mail to your representative and a letter to the editor of your local newspaper (both are already pre-drafted for you!). Find out more at www.connectingourworld.org/speakout.