May 16, 2014 — Francisco Diaz, a 41-year-old carpenter, recently biked over 1,000 miles from his Miami home to Washington, D.C., to deliver one small item to President Obama: a pen. Diaz completed the ride last month to promote “Pedaling for 20 Million Dreams,” his campaign to raise awareness of the need for immigration reform.
Diaz’s hope was to deliver the pen to President Obama so he could sign an Executive Order placing a moratorium on deportations. “In my hand, a pen doesn’t have much power, but in the hand of the president it could change so many things for so many people and families,” Diaz said. According to Diaz, the 20 million referenced in the title of his campaign represent the 11 million people deported each year, along with their family and friends.
Diaz, who is originally from Mexico City, has experienced the effects of the current immigration system firsthand. When his brother-in-law was deported two years ago, it had a devastating impact on Diaz’s seven-year-old niece Emily, a star student. “The teachers began to realize that something had happened as her grades started to fall,” Diaz said. Emily’s three-year-old sister Fernanda also began having nightmares and couldn’t understand why her father had left. Propelled by his family’s own suffering and the experiences of others he met along the way, Diaz embarked on his bike-riding journey.
He was met with the hospitality of many faith communities and well-wishers at his stops between Miami and D.C., including the Jesuit parish of St. Raphael the Archangel in North Carolina. At Sacred Heart Church in Richmond, Va., another Jesuit parish, Diaz met Jesuit Father Jack Podsiadlo, who was participating in the Fast for Families event for comprehensive immigration reform. When Diaz mentioned that he needed help articulating his experiences and his plea to the White House for action on deportations, Fr. Podsiadlo encouraged him, “You don’t need anything, because all you need is already within you — it’s already in your head.”
Diaz said he felt the Spirit move within him during his 5:30 a.m. daily prayer the following morning, helping him compose his letter to President Obama, which read in part:
“I have faith and hope that soon the cries of an immigrant
people that suffers will end.
I have faith and hope that no more fathers will be separated from their families.
I have faith and hope that no more mothers will be separated from their sons.
I have faith and hope that the most sacred aspect of a society, the family bond, will remain united.
I have faith and hope that the American Dream will return to being the American Dream.”
While Diaz was unable to deliver his pen to the president, he continues to look for ways to support the people he met on his journey and advocate for the rights and dignity of those affected by current U.S. immigration policy.