Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

Deporting illegal immigrants

August 12, 2012

A week ago I was at the detention center in Broadview. Each Friday, rain or shine, cold or heat, at 7:15 in the morning, a group of men, women and children gather at the center and pray the rosary in both English and Spanish.

This prayer vigil started in December 2006, with families and lawyers joining two Sisters of Mercy, JoAnn Persch and Pat Murphy. With them as core, other religious sisters and brothers, priests and parishioners from various parishes and people from other faith communities come to participate. When I was with the group (See photos at bottom of page.), there were parishioners from Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Kevin, Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Rita, Resurrection, Our Lady of Grace, St. Viator, St. John Bosco, St. Francis Xavier in LaGrange and in Wilmette, St. Edmund, Ascension, St. Nicholas, St. Christopher and St. Peter’s in the Loop.

Broadview is the final destination for processing all detainees from Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Kentucky before they are deported from O’Hare. Their wrists and feet are shackled in the bus to the airport. Most are sent to Reynosa or Matamoros, Mexican towns along the border with Texas. When they arrive, religious, especially Scalabrinians, offer those deported from the United States temporary shelter at a “Casa del Migrante,” help them contact any family members they might have in Mexico and get them bus tickets to go to their place of origin.

The Chicago office of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement kindly permits the sisters and others who come each Friday to speak to the deportees, pray with them and minister to their family members who are present. The archdiocesan ministry for immigrant affairs and education is directed by Elena Segura, who is always present with support and hope, especially for the families who are about to be separated from their father or, less often, their mother.

This past Friday, the workers gave pastoral support and information to a mother of five children who was crying because her husband was being deported. She is a parishioner at St. Anthony Church in Cicero. People from the ministry for migrants visited her home the same day to evaluate her family’s needs and to connect them to a variety of Catholic Charities services and suggest other resources.

Approximately 50,000 deportees have left from Broadview in the past five years, usually in groups of 80 or 90 each week. About 80,000 children in this area have been separated from at least one of their parents. Most of those deported are from Mexico, some from Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador. Those from Poland or Ireland or other European countries are deported from a different center. Across the entire United States, approximately 400,000 people were deported in 2011, double the number expelled in 2000. Some of these were genuine criminals and should have been deported; but most are ordinary, responsible people who came here in years past when we deliberately didn’t protect our borders from people who came to work.

The government’s immigration policy seems schizophrenic. On the one hand, there is much hopeful rhetoric and even concrete gestures like allowing those young people raised here to finish college before they have to face again the threat of deportation; on the other hand, the number of people deported is greater than ever.

The legal reform of our immigration system is a politically charged issue, which is why there seems little political will to face the fact that 11 million people who are here without documents and are therefore outside the law are nevertheless woven into the fabric of our family and social life, our parishes and communities, our economy and public life. When an individual is separated from the family and community in which he has made his life, everyone suffers.

Someday, a more humane and just system of protecting our borders and of admitting immigrants legally will be worked out. Then our present recourse to erratic expulsions that demean those who are deported and those who remain will be a bad memory. In the meantime, however, through the steady, persevering presence of many generous Catholics of the archdiocese, the church is present in prayer and accompanies with practical help those leaving and those left behind. God bless them all.