From one of the CCGP team members working on Capitol Hill: Jill Marie Gerschutz-Bell
Greetings! I have had the privilege of working in CRS’ legislative affairs office for three years now. It was a pleasure to join the team, having written about CRS’ justice lens for my thesis on “Catholic approaches to Peacebuilding” in 2005.
A significant portion of my portfolio requires that I lead on appropriations, which has included the budget battles over the last two years. During the fiscal cliff debates last fall, a staffer from Democratic leadership thanked us for all we were doing with our letter and campaign and told us we could not be on the Hill enough. In addition to protecting poverty-focused humanitarian and development funding, I work with Congress and the Administration to improve the coherence, efficiency and effectiveness of foreign assistance (a.k.a., foreign aid reform). Third, as co-chair of a working group on Afghanistan, I represent CRS in emphasizing the important role of community-based development in Afghanistan and oversight of stabilization programs. Immigration, refugees and trafficking round out my portfolio.
Immigration issues are particularly close to my heart. Having lived an itinerant lifestyle throughout my childhood, the Church has been a refuge for me personally. Working for Casa Alianza in Central America and with migrants in the US illustrated to me the consequences of our broken immigration system. As a fellow with Woodstock Theological Center’s Theology of Migration Project, I co-edited and contributed to And You Welcomed Me: Migration and Catholic Social Teaching. I sincerely hope that the political calculus has changed for the 113th Congress– this debate tests my hope!
It is a particular joy for me to work with advocates across the country. For one, as outreach coordinator at the Jesuit Conference I developed great respect for all of the incredible work and advocacy happening at the local and state levels. Education and outreach build the kind of culture that dignifies not only the poor and marginalized, but all of us. Secondly, I know that constituents are a critical part of our influence in DC. (Our field experience and Church teaching are two other critical components). At breakfast recently with a Member of Congress, he noted how hearing independently from six constituents in his district felt like a tidal wave of public opinion. Despite the reluctance with which some people view organized religion these days, our potential as Church to influence our government is incredible. Every time someone weighs in with a legislator as part of the CRS community I feel we are sowing another seed to build God’s Kingdom.
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