Late Sunday night, November 10, Solana Beach Presbyterian Church’s senior minister, Mike McClenahan, decided to check his email. He clicked on correspondence that claimed to be from the White House. It requested his presence at a November 13 meeting in the West Wing, with the president.
Even though the email looked real, with the presidential seal, security forms attached, and originating from a .gov address, Rev. McClenahan thought it was a joke. Why would the president of the United States be inviting him to a meeting?
In March, McClenahan called for a church task force to study the issue of immigration reform; to look at the law, how it affects the Hispanic members of his church family, and what the Scriptures say about the issue.
When he heard the immigration stories of those in his congregation and of the Hispanic community near his church, he says, “I became an accidental advocate of immigration reform.” McClenahan noted that even the two most conservative members of the task force realized immigration reform had to be addressed.
On June 2, he was asked to speak at a forum hosted by the San Diegans United for Immigration Reform — a meeting of law enforcement, labor, and business leaders. The airing of the issues discussed made nationwide headlines and attracted the attention of other immigration-reform groups around the country.
So, before RSVP'ing to the White House on Monday, November 11, McClenahan contacted some of his well-connected, newfound reform proponents. He described the email he received. Based on his description, they all said the invitation was the “real deal.”
He asked his secretary to call the White House contact stated in the email, and check it out. The invite was legit. Within 36 hours, he was on a red-eye flight to Washington DC.
On Wednesday, November 13, McClenahan, along with seven other immigration-reform proponents, had a one-and-a-half-hour meeting at the White House with President Obama, Vice President Biden, and senior advisor Valerie Jarrett. McClenahan said he had no idea what to say at the meeting. He was told to simply share the story of his congregation.
At the end of the meeting, the president asked for a prayer. The group joined hands as attendee Fred Luter, president of the Southern Baptists, led the prayer.
It wasn’t until the meeting was over that McClenahan found out why he was invited: he met White House staffer Julie Rodriguez. It was Rodriguez who had recommended McClenahan after reading his Op-Ed piece on immigration reform published in the October 17 U-T.
It may also have had something to do with that June 2 forum: Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs was present. It is possible that Jacobs mentioned McClenahan to the White House, as Jacobs, a large Democratic supporter, was personally called by the president, who asked for help on the reform issue.
McClenahan states he supports the current proposed immigration-reform legislation, which includes border protection, and a long pathway to citizenship. “It is not amnesty. It’s the same plan proposed by President Bush,” he said.
During Sunday services on Sunday, November 17, McClenahan shared the story of his trip and the church’s stance on immigration reform. He related it to the Biblical story of Ruth, a non-Jewish woman from the country of Moab, who moved to Israel and was accepted into the Jewish faith.
(corrected 11/29 5:30 a.m.)