Defending Asylum in the Halls of Congress

#supportimmigrants #saveasylum rally

If you don’t do it, who is going to do it for you?
   ILJ Network Board Vice-Chair Diana Pliego on the Power of Advocacy

January 9, 2024

On a rainy and blustery day earlier this month, members of Congress, community organizers, and over 400 immigration activists gathered to demand that our elected leaders reject legislation that would ravage our asylum system, separate families, and force vulnerable people back to face persecution and danger.

The Lutheran Church of the Reformation—located a stone’s throw away from the Capitol—opened its doors as a respite from the growing storm, and soon every square inch of the sanctuary was overflowing with eager advocates from around the country—and the busloads kept arriving.

After the speeches, after the prayers, after the rallying chants—the real work began. We broke into groups, and then we were on our way to meet with legislative staff from all 100 U.S. senators.

Diana Pliego, ILJ Network Board Vice-Chair and Federal Advocacy Strategist for National Immigration Law Center in Washington, D.C., was the co-leader of our group of faith leaders, representatives from different immigrant communities, and everyday citizens who felt compelled to speak up in defense of asylum.

diana and ben mcconnell office
Diana confers with her colleague Ben D’Avanzo before meeting with Senator McConnell’s immigration policy advisor.

Our first visit was to Minority Leader and Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell’s office.

We heard an Indigenous Guatemalan immigrant speak eloquently about her experiences as an asylum seeker. A rabbi gave an emotional plea for welcome and compassion, and we provided a few salient details about the clients at Neighbors Immigration Clinic—our ILJ affiliate in Kentucky.

We continued our visits throughout the afternoon, trudging through the cavernous hallways of the Russell Senate building. Diana prepped us before each visit on who would speak and what our focus would be. Does the senator’s state need immigrant workers? Is there a sizeable immigrant community living there? Do opinion polls of the senator’s constituents show support for pro-immigrant policies?

By the time our group worked through our list, it was past 6 o’clock. Our footsteps echoed through the empty halls as the rain fell harder outside. Diana was pleased with the feedback she’d received from the other groups.

“We hit every office,” she said proudly. “It’s great to see this kind of commitment, even with terrible weather and so many canceled flights.” We kept walking, trying to find a working exit. “What will happen now is unclear,” she added. “It’s possible our actions may have impacted the negotiations that are going on behind closed doors. But we’ve at least given the Democrats reason to hold the line and stand up against these egregious proposals.”

diana and her group senator hickenlooper cropped and resized
Preparing to meet with staff members from the office of Senator John Hickenlooper (D-CO)

More about Diana

“I took notice of immigration issues from an early age because I had to,” Diana tells us. Growing up undocumented and later becoming a DACA recipient, most of her career has been centered on organizing and advocating for immigrant communities. She is currently focused on developing DACA campaign strategies, but still helps lead grassroots lobbying efforts,

The work can be hard and discouraging—Diana began her NILC career working on federal policy during the Trump era—but she takes energy and inspiration from the fellowship of the people around her who are also engaged in the struggle for social justice.

“When you see policies that have such a detrimental impact on our communities, when you hear story after story of people facing unjust detention and deportation, and families who are living your worst nightmare,” she states emphatically, “It helps to be around people who understand exactly what you’re going through. “

ILJ Network Board Vice Chair Diana Pliego
ILJ Network Board Vice-Chair Diana Pliego

Diana joined our board four years ago and now serves as vice-chair. She was integral to our 2022 effort to rebrand from National Justice for Our Neighbors to Immigration Law & Justice Network.

It will seem strange to some people that Diana, who devotes her working life to enacting meaningful change in U.S. immigration policy, would choose to devote her free time to another organization serving immigrant communities.

“I wanted to serve from a different perch,” she explains. “This was a way for me to contribute to an organization doing difficult and direct work. I love the ILJ mission, and the intersection of social justice and faith is near and dear to my heart. We are reclaiming what faith actually calls us to do.

“I hope that folks will be encouraged to get involved wherever they can,” she continues. “I know there’s a lot going on in the world that requires our attention or at least wants our attention. There are so many good causes because there is so much brokenness all around us. But I hope people will join in our efforts when they can and how they can.”

***UPDATE: January 29, 2024***

Negotiations continue with the inevitable delays. Regardless, immigration advocates across the nation continue to meet with their members of Congress and urge them to defend our asylum system. 

You can do your part, too. Please contact your senators or representatives through this form provided by the Church and Society of the United Methodist Church


Photo Credit: Kevin Wolf/AP Images for the American Civil Liberties Union. 



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