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March 28, 2010

Local immigration reform advocates flock to U.S. capitol, press for change Fifty-eight parishes represented at Washington march

By Daniel P. Smith


While national legislators and media consumed the health care debate on Sunday, March 21, a collection of Chicagoans joined with thousands of others to bring attention to another contentious political issue. More than 1,000 people from more than 50 archdiocesan parishes joined with dozens of local priests and religious in traveling to Washington, D.C. for a rally in support of immigration reform.

The local contingent, a collaborative effort between parishes, community-based organizations, the Sisters and Brothers of Immigrants and the Priests for Justice for Immigrants, participated with more than 200,000 attendees in a march, rally and Mass presided over by Los Angeles Archbishop Roger Mahony.

“I’ve never seen so many people before in my life,” said marcher Magdaleno Ocon, pastoral minister at St. Rita Parish, 6243 S. Fairfield Ave., who attended the event with his wife and mother-in-law. “The energy of the event gave me the motivation to keep moving on this issue and to share my experience with others.”

Marilu Gonzalez of the archdiocese’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and Immigration Education said the goal of the rally was to raise consciousness with legislators that comprehensive immigration reform remains an issue demanding attention.

“The immigrant community is in need of something that’s compassionate at all levels,” Gonzalez said.

‘In this together’

The massive march and rally highlighted the widespread call for meaningful reform and the need for a Christian response. The immigrant issue, Gonzalez reminds, is not a Hispanic issue alone. Rather, immigration reform arises from Catholic ideology that families remain together and calls upon the Catholic tradition of hospitality.

“We’re showing that we’re one voice and we’re all in this together,” Gonzalez confirmed. “This is an issue we need to address with our eyes closed because the journey here is part of a broader Catholic response.”

Katie Sosa-Solorio of Blessed Sacrament Parish, 3615 S. Hoyne Ave., endured the 13-hour bus drive to the nation’s capital with a personal plea. Sosa-Solorio’s husband of five years, Daniel, is an illegal immigrant from Mexico who is facing a voluntary deportation on June 23.

“If [Daniel] leaves, then we’re going to be separated and I’m praying that some type of law opens,” said Sosa-Solorio, who referenced President Barack Obama’s campaign promise to review 245(i), which allows people in the U.S. illegally to petition for a change of adjustment status.

Listening to a message from President Obama that reiterated his desire to work on the nation’s immigration system, Sosa-Solorio said the rally offered optimism, even as her husband’s voluntary deportation date nears.

“I leave tired, but hopeful and believing that this journey was all worth it,” she said.

Ocon, himself a native of Mexico who received his citizenship in 1978, reminded that Catholic immigrants are largely relying on other Catholics to help advance the immigration reform debate.

“We need to help and speak up and let the immigrants know that they have rights,” Ocon said. “God put us in a spot to help and we need to do our part.”

Before marching three miles past the Capitol to RFK Stadium, where their buses waited, the exuberant, hopeful crowd waved flags and signs as dozens of speakers took to the stage to tell their personal immigration stories. Other speakers pledged the support of their churches, unions and human rights groups.

Praying for change

Before the rally and a few blocks from the Capitol, Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony spent 30 minutes greeting people arriving for a special Mass at St. Aloysius Church.

In a homily that invoked the late labor leader Cesar Chavez, with whom the cardinal worked for many years for farmworkers’ rights, Mahony noted that it was time for immigration reform to take the political stage.

In a phone interview with Catholic News Service the next morning, Cardinal Mahony said passage by the House of a health care reform bill hours after the rally “is helpful to immigration reform efforts,” given the current political climate.

“The president made a very firm commitment during the campaign and again recently that immigration reform is one of his top priorities,” the cardinal said. Now that a health care bill will help millions of uninsured people receive affordable medical care, he added, it's time for the government to address the millions of people who are living in the shadows because they lack legal immigration status.

“This is unfinished business,” Cardinal Mahony said, adding that bringing those immigrants into the system for paying taxes and tapping into assorted public services will help the U.S. economic recovery.