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March 29, 2009

Cardinal, Catholics seek comprehensive immigration reform

By Kristin Peterson


Cardinal George was joined by more than a thousand people at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Albany Park on March 21 as he urged President Barack Obama’s administration to stop immigration raids and deportations that are separating families and to work towards more comprehensive immigration reform.

“This will be a clear sign that this administration is truly about change,” the cardinal said.

The interfaith prayer service was organized by the Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform, Priests for Justice for Immigrants, Sisters and Brothers of Immigrants and other interfaith groups. U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Chicago) was also present; he will be promoting similar events at churches in other cities.

The focus of the event was on the family, as Cardinal George and others shared stories of how the broken immigration system has separated families and affected the church and society.

“It is families that enable anyone to enter into society, to learn how to be human, to learn how to love and to love someone in return,” Cardinal George said. “If we want to create a more peaceful society, we need to strengthen families.”

The cardinal emphasized that God created the family unit. “Our church teaches that the family is sacred. It is the cradle of life, the core institution of society. To separate families — wives from husbands, children from parents — is to diminish what God has joined,” he said.

The church was filled with families, young people, priests, religious brothers and sisters, members of community organizations and people from various ethic backgrounds.

Before the event, Marjorie Maridueña, a parishioner at Our Lady of Mercy, explained how the immigration raids have affected her parish and community. “Especially as a religious education coordinator, I have seen families separated. I have had kids in class crying because they miss their parents,” she said.

Three young people shared testimony of how the unjust immigration laws have affected their families.

Brenda, 11, described her family life with her parents and two younger sisters. Both of her parents work, but they still spend lots of time with the children, teaching them the values of hard work and respect.

Because her parents are not legal residents, Brenda said she lives in constant worry. “What would happen if one of my parents were deported because they are not citizens? What would happen to us? Where would we live?” she asked.

Peter Derezinski’s father was deported to Poland a few years ago. “All I want is for my father to return,” the 17-year old said, close to tears. “I believe that my family and I deserve something better than this from our government.”

Finally Ana, a young adult, shared the story of her mother, who came to the United States illegally in 1976 and was deported in 1985. Since her mother had to leave behind Ana and two other small children, she returned illegally to the United States.

Ana expressed her frustration that the government would not help a mother who needed to take care of her family. “The government is not willing to make exceptions for what any mother would have done for her kids,” she said.

Cardinal George added that people cannot just blame the government for the problems in the immigration system. They also must look at how welcoming they are. “We need to stand in solidarity with those who would otherwise be forgotten,” the cardinal said. “We are called to be light for those forced into the shadows.”

At the closing prayer everyone joined hands and stood in solidarity with each other. Then everyone sang together “El pueblo unido, jamas sera vencido,” or “The people united will never be defeated.” Before leaving, those who were citizens or permanent residents were asked to sign a petition that Gutierrez would bring to President Obama.

Cardinal George expressed hope that the voices of the people gathered in this church would be heard. “May this be the year when raids and the separation of our families stop,” the cardinal said. “May this be the year that our legislators pass comprehensive immigration reform.”