Campus Ambassadors Meet Bill Weitz, Congressman Engel’s Chief of Staff

by MADALYN JOHNSON & JOE LIGGIO, Asst. A&E Editor & Asst. News Editor

On Wednesday, March 13, a group of representatives from Manhattan College met with Congressman Elliot Engel’s Chief of Staff Bill Weitz, to discuss funding for the federal budget of the upcoming fiscal year.

Students Mackenna Jacovich, Carly Brownell, Alana Pons and Jill Beckerle, as well as Director of Campus Ministry and Social Action Lois Harr, all made the trek to Congressman Engel’s office at 3655 Johnson Avenue, representing the Catholic Relief Service (CRS) at Manhattan. There they offered Lasallian advocacy for the ongoing human rights concerns at the U.S. Southern border.

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Students meeting with Congressman Engel’s Chief of Staff, Bill Weitz, to discuss funding for the federal budget for the upcoming fiscal year. LOIS HARR FACEBOOK/ COURTESY

The meeting was made possible due to an event hosted last month by CRS and MC’s own CRS campus ambassadors, held in response to the current U.S. political stance concerning immigration policies and a border wall. On February 19, MC students were welcomed by CRS Ambassadors to attend “Would the U.S. Accept You?” in Smith Auditorium, which gave students the opportunity to fully realize perceptions of immigrants and their journey to the U.S. A hands-on activity that involved attendees using cash and cards to portray an immigrant, CRS ambassadors were able to convey to others why some make the sacrifice to come to the United States and how difficult the journey really is.

Kevin Ahern, Ph.D. and Lois Harr coordinate the Global Campus Project at Manhattan, a division of CRS which itself advocates for the poor and vulnerable around the world. Harr shared how CRS at Manhattan College progressed into a Global Campus so professional meetings and events could be coordinated with MC.

“Manhattan College has been working with CRS since around 2005,” said Harr via e-mail. “In 2012, we became a Fair Trade College and after several programs and projects with CRS, we were recognized as a CRS Global Campus in 2014. This means we’re committed to working with CRS at the institutional/presidential level, as well as the faculty and student levels.”

The group presented a budget sheet to Weitz and stressed adequate funding for international aid and development. “Don’t balance the budget on the backs of poor people” was one statement made by the ambassadors during the meeting.

“This year migration is a priority as is the fiscal year 2020 budget. That’s why we presented the Crossing Borders simulation last month,” said Harr. “Asking for a meeting with Congressman Engel’s office was a follow-up to the simulation – to advocate on the 2020 budget. We gave the Congressman’s Chief of Staff, Bill Weitz, copies of all the letters students signed at the simulation – including ones to 29 other members of Congress.”

Jacovich, a senior at Manhattan, originally got involved with CRS as a junior, hoping to work with human rights in the future. She explained how the meeting with Weitz came about after last month’s event.

“After the simulation, we watched a webinar that the main branch of CRS issued for advocacy visits and planned out our meeting. It was right after the proposed fiscal budget came out, which cut aid to migrants and refugees by 100 percent, so we decided to keep our meeting focused on the issue of migration,” said Jacovich via e-mail.

Pons, a freshman at Manhattan, signed up with CRS after the simulation and also attended the webinar to prep for the meeting.

“We allocated different parts of our talk among the ambassadors so everyone had a chance to express their concerns … I spoke to him directly about my past trip to El Paso, Texas and my concerns for the borderlands and the migrants risking everything to travel here. I stressed the urgency of the situation by telling some of the stories of the people I encountered and also revealing the inhumane conditions of detention centers,” said Pons via e-mail.

She attributes the success of the meeting to all of the CRS members who helped to coordinate the event.

“I was very proud of the whole CRS team for the hours of preparation. Even those who unfortunately couldn’t make it to the meeting with Bill Weitz helped tremendously,” Pons said.

Harr associated the human right issues that need to be addressed and fixed for the upcoming U.S. federal budget to upholding morals and living up to the expectations of a Lasallian.

Those who attended the meeting were satisfied by the way it went, and remain optimistic about the upcoming budget.

“The meeting went really well and [Weitz] was enthusiastic about Elliot Engel visiting our campus in the near future. He seemed very hopeful that the fiscal budget would not pass as-is and encouraged us to continue to advocate for the humane treatment of migrants entering the U.S.,” said Jacovich.