Catholic New World: Newspaper for the Archdiocese of Chicago

Thousands turn out for immigration reform rally

By Michelle Martin

About 150,000 people-mostly immigrants themselves-turned out for a May 1 march and rally to demand reform of the United States' immigration system.

Many of the marchers carried signs in English and Spanish, calling for "No more raids," and proclaiming, "We are workers, not criminals."

Marchers also focused on keeping families together, a frequent issue in that nearly a third of an estimated 6.3 immigrant families without legal status have at least one child who is a U.S. citizen. Such families face a choice when parents are deported: either leave the children here, under the care of friends or relatives, or take them to the parents' home countries, where the children have never lived.

Legal immigrants to the United States also face separation from family members, who must wait years for visas to join them in the United States.

Keeping families together is one of the priorities in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' campaign for immigration reform, "Justice for Immigrants: A Journey of Hope."

According to campaign officials, senators from both parties were negotiating with the Bush administration the first week of May in hopes of creating compromise immigration reform legislation which could be considered on the floor of the U.S. Senate beginning the week of May 14.

The bishops' conference recognizes the need of countries to control their borders, but insists that immigrants must be treated with the dignity necessary to all people, that there must be a usable system for immigrant workers to come to the United States and for the estimated 12 million people in the United States without proper documents to attain legal status.

In Chicago, Priests for Justice for Immigrants boasts more than 120 members working with the Archdiocesan Office for Peace and Justice and lay groups to advocate for immigration reform, help immigrants become citizens and educate non-immigrant parishioners about the need for immigration reform.

Participants in the May 1 rally used President Bush's education reform slogan, "No child left behind," to advocate to keep their families together.

Many of the participants made the three mile trek from Union Park west of the Loop to Grant Park's Hutchinson Field as families, with children helping to carry flags and babies in strollers or strapped in carriers on their mothers' chests.

Among them were Angel Medina, his wife and four children ranging in age from 16 months to 16 years. Medina came to the United States without documents, but acquired legal status in the 1986 amnesty. Before then, he said, he always felt like he was about "to fall off a cliff." Now he wants others to have the same chance he had, to build a life out of the shadows.

Members of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish on the North Side, the family carried a yellow- and-white papal flag.

"This is part of our responsibility," Medina said. "Especially for our church." An extended family group of about 10 people from Northwest Indiana came with strollers, diaper bags and a large American flag.

"We want a chance," said Chris Reyes, a member of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Hammond, as he held the American flag high. Reyes, a restaurant kitchen manager, said immigrants like his family, originally from Mexico City, want to work. "We deserve opportunity."

While most of the flags were red, white and blue, most of the crowd was Latino, along with a significant representation of North African and Middle Eastern Muslims. Agnes Nadi of west suburban Bartlett walked with a Polish flag, to demonstrate that immigration reform is not only a Latino issue.

"We are a part of the community, too," said Nadi, a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Lombard.

Many of the same issues were raised at an April 14 march from Our Lady of Mercy Church on the North Side to the Copernicus Center.

"This is not a political issue or a social issue. It's a moral issue," Viatorian Father Corey Brost of the Priests for Justice told some 1,500 immigration reform supporters at the April event.

"God is not pleased by these stories of injustice and persecution we heard here today," said Brost, one of several dozen speakers on a program emceed by Father Jason Malave of St. Bartholomew Parish.

Tony Wasilewski, a Northwest Side business owner with 15 employees on his payroll, told how he will probably lose it all after 18 years in the United States if the government goes through with plans to deport his wife just before Wasilewski himself is scheduled to become a citizen. He noted they have a 6-year-old American born son who will have a hard time understanding "why his country doesn't want his mother."

Wasilewski said everyone he has turned to for help so far told him "there are no rules to help us at this time."

At this point, it's up to the public to barrage Washington with a blitz of letters, emails and phone calls "to make this the year we bring it home," said Billy Lawless of the Chicago Celts for Immigration Reform.

Contributing: Pat Butler