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What I would have told Senator Tillis, had he made time to meet with us


Our working families need voices to carry their message, and mine will not be silenced.

By: Oscar F. Zuniga, Assistant Pastor, New Hope United Methodist Church
Oct 08, 2019

Nc Lobby Day

The door to my church is open to all. I wish the same could be said for the door to the office of U.S. Senator Thom Tillis. 

I tried to visit with him recently, accompanied by 8 fellow clergy members and more than 100 citizens of North Carolina, including SEIU members. We are all his constituents, yet Senator Tillis declined to speak to us. His staff said he had votes, but we would have been flexible to fit within his schedule.

We sought and traveled to DC to meet with him because after many attempts to arrange a meeting with him in North Carolina at any of his district offices failed. We wanted to tell him how federal laws and policies affect members of our community. I would have told him about Reina, a single mother from Winston-Salem, who applied for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in 2002, and has been renewing her status every 18 months ever since. She is terrified of being sent back to El Salvador and is looking to the Senate to take action to protect her and millions of others like her.

Our delegation was there to suggest a way forward. 

One priority is to prevent a disaster in the making for tens of thousands of North Carolinians and nearly a million across the country who came to the United States and have been living here legally, peacefully, and productively for many years, but who now face loss of legal status. Thanks to erratic and irrational actions in Washington, only a patchwork of court rulings now protects people previously granted Temporary Protected Status, Deferred Enforced Departure (DED), or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

These are people who have lived in harmony with their neighbors for years, even decades. They pay taxes, own companies, obey the law. Uprooting them and sending them to a country that many do not remember, with a language many do not speak, would cause more than individual hardship. It would rip holes in communities as they struggle with lost workers, broken families, mortgage defaults, and mental anguish.

Working families in North Carolina are also struggling with stagnant wages. The federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour hasn’t moved in a decade, the longest stretch ever without an increase. Once upon a time, a parent could work a full-time minimum wage job and keep his or her family out of poverty. Today, many full-time workers qualify for public assistance. 

It's a shame that Senator Tillis couldn't meet with us last month. I simply wanted a chance to him how his inaction on these critical issues impacts the lives of the people he represents.

But I will not stop trying. Proverbs 31:8 tells us to "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” 

Our working families need voices to carry their message, and mine will not be silenced.

Photo: North Carolina delegation travel to Washington, DC to lobby their member of Congress