Working at the Top of the Political Fray: A Christian Immigrant's Time on Capitol Hill
The Body Politic’s editor D. Leiva introduces himself and starts to share his experiences working in Congress.
In the late nineties and early aughts when I was in high school and my dad used to subscribe to Time Magazine, I remember asking him what party we were. He told me that “we” weren’t of any particular party, but while “he” identified with Republicans I was free to choose whatever I wanted.
I remember being a little confused because I had understood politics, and almost everything else in life, as I did religion—we believe the same thing as a family. But in reality I knew very little about politics, and my dad’s response encouraged me to figure this out on my own.
Now, in my thirties, I would say that I mostly identify with conservatives and Republicans.
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I decided what “side” I was on. Yes, I went to a Christian and politically conservative liberal arts college, but I was very much the rebel there during my tenure as a student (that’s a story for another time). Yes, I grew up in Florida during the Jeb Bush governorship and George W. Bush presidency, but as a non-Cuban in Miami I had no incentive to identify as Republican. So despite the stereotypical reasons why I might have come to identify with Republicans, the truth is that every time I was exposed to potential solutions to pressing problems from both parties I found myself mostly, if not wholly, agreeing with the Republican approach.
(I'll admit it: There were even times when I felt like being a Republican made me a responsible Christian. Please don't stop reading.)
After graduating, I ended up eventually working in Congress. I spent three years working for a very high-ranking Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives. It was an excellent job that, in my wildest dreams, I never thought I would have. As an immigrant from El Salvador, I always felt like an outsider, but here I was, employed as an ultimate insider. Weird.
Then all political hell broke loose.
President Obama was reelected in 2012 thanks in large part to the Latino vote. The Republican party publicly declared that supporting immigration reform was the key to winning Latinos back. And then we just didn't do it.
As a Christian, an immigrant and a minority employed in Congress I was confused and a bit hurt. Even though I’m not a citizen of this country, I’ve lived here more than 20 years, I have come to love this country, I have served this country as a Congressional staffer, I married a citizen, and have come to also identify myself culturally as a U.S. American. The Republican position on immigration reform was not one that I, as a believer and defender of the gospel, could accept, much less defend, given my understanding of the Christian faith. And so I was especially confused to see religious groups forming in support of the rejection of immigration reform.
Eventually I left Congress, but not because of the immigration reform rejection—if anything, that had made me feel like I had to remain on the inside so that I could effect change from within. I’m grateful for my time on the Hill and for the opportunity to serve this country, but as I was leaving, the political landscape felt toxic, unhealthy and more partisan than I had ever known.
This website is an effort to equip believers across the political spectrum to carry the gospel into the political corners of their lives in ways that are authentic, challenging and life-giving. We’re looking forward to getting started.