"I am deeply grateful for your welcome in the name of all Americans. As the son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families. I look forward to these days of encounter and dialogue, in which I hope to listen to, and share, many of the hopes and dreams of the American people." – Pope Francis
Last week, I was blessed with good fortune. I received a ticket to attend the White House Arrival Ceremony for Pope Francis's first stop on his visit to the United States. I found out about the ticket the evening before the ceremony and, by midnight, I had put on my #EndFamilyDetention pin and was standing in line at the White House gate. I was immediately struck by the importance of this historic moment and the opportunity the Papal visit presented to draw attention the plight of migrants.
Joining me in line were a half dozen asylum seekers, several of whom had limbs amputated after they fell from "La Bestia," the train on top of which so many migrants have attempted to escape Central America to seek refuge in the United States. They wanted the Pope and President to consider their struggle and flight from persecution. My friends and I broke out the enchiladas and breakfast tacos that we had brought to sustain us through our all-nighter, and shared them with our new friends from Central America. The air buzzed with a sense of fellowship and excitement for the Pope’s welcome.
At 5:30 AM the gates were opened and we were allowed onto the White House South Lawn. Once we got settled in, who was behind me in the crowd but Carlos Arredondo, a Costa Rican immigrant and hero to the Boston community for the bravery he showed in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing. (That's me in the bottom-right of the photo, accidentally sharing in his celebrity).
Over the next few hours, our government pulled out all the stops for the waiting audience: an honor guard of at least 500 servicemen and women, the Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, play-by-play coverage by every news organization imaginable, a VIP list of Washington elites to make your head spin. It was exhilarating.
After the pomp and circumstance - and following the President’s on-point remarks about the Pope's unique, moral voice - came the moment we had been waiting for, Pope Francis's first remarks to the people of the United States. With his first words to the American public, the Holy Father identified himself as the son of immigrants. I cannot overstate how impactful it was for these to have been the Pope's first words to the United States. The very first thing that Pope Francis wanted to do in the United States was to look into the eyes of my new asylum seeking friends, the Costa Rican hero behind me, and every immigrant family and say, "I am a son of immigrants. I am one of you."
In the face of a public discourse about immigration that has sunk to new depths of ugliness calling into question the contributions of newcomers, and debating issues like birthright citizenship, family detention, and the right to migrate, Pope Francis took this first moment to make an intimate expression of personal solidarity with immigrant families.
So, let us walk with Francis, the Son of Immigrants. And, in doing so, may we answer the Gospel call to welcome the stranger, continuing to unite around faith and the understanding that together, our communities and character are made stronger.
*Bradley Jenkins is Training and Legal Support Staff Attorney and Manages the Board of Immigration Appeals Pro Bono Project at CLINIC