President’s actions on immigration welcomed locally

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, November 30, 2014

Hundreds of people gathered for a prayer vigil and Mass for immigration reform and unaccompanied children on Oct. 24 at Federal Plaza. (Karen Callaway / Catholic New World)

Archbishop Cupich issued a statement reminding Chicago-area Catholics that while President Barack Obama’s executive actions that offer relief for some undocumented immigrants are to be celebrated, they are by no means enough.

“This is a time for momentary celebration, a time to give thanks for a first step toward immigration reform for all of those who are being granted this relief,” Archbishop Cupich said in a Nov. 25 statement. “It is also a time to mobilize our communities to assist in helping those affected by the administration’s actions to realize the full benefit of what is being offered.”

The president’s actions include starting a program that will defer deportation for any undocumented immigrant who has children who are U.S. citizens, unless they commit crimes, and allow them to work legally in the United States. Such permits will last three years and be renewable. The president also extended a 2012 program allowing people who were brought to the United States illegally as children to be protected from deportation, making those who arrived as late as 2010 eligible and allowing those born before 1981 to participate. The changes are expected to allow about 4.5 million people to live free of the fear of deportation.

At the same time, the president said in a televised speech on Nov. 20, more resources will be dedicated to border security and to deporting undocumented immigrants who commit crimes.

“However, we must not forget that there are millions of people left out of these recent relief decisions, still forced to live in the shadows. Therefore, we must continue to support the efforts nationally and locally until Comprehensive Compassionate Immigration Reform is achieved for all,” Archbishop Cupich’s statement said. “I pledge to continue to work with my brother bishops through the Catholic Conference, and in our local church of Chicago, continuing the long legacy of support of my predecessor, Cardinal George.”

In a Thanksgiving letter to priests, Archbishop Cupich said that he had the chance to make those points directly to President Obama when the president visited Chicago Nov. 25 to rally support for his action on immigration. He also took the opportunity to ask Obama to include a confidentiality provision, so that “people will not fear that information given in applying for legal status will be misused in the future.”

Meanwhile, the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office for Immigration Affairs and Immigration Education has been working overtime since the president’s announcement.

Elena Segura, the office’s director, said she and her staff have been working with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago, other Catholic organizations and the Mexican consulate to help people prepare for the new programs, which are to go into effect in six months.

“For the ones who are getting some sort of temporary protection, I am excited, delighted,” said Segura, who heads the only diocesan office of its kind in the United States. “I feel sad for the ones who will not qualify for this action. There are 6 million people who are not getting a piece of the cake.”

The president’s move also drew praise from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who advocate for comprehensive immigration reform with a stated goal of keeping families together.

“We have a long history of welcoming and aiding the poor, the outcast, the immigrant, and the disadvantaged,” said Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, M.Sp.S., auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration. “Each day, the Catholic Church in the United States, in her social service agencies, hospitals, schools, and parishes, witnesses the human consequences of the separation of families, when parents are deported from their children or spouses from each other. We’ve been on record asking the administration to do everything within its legitimate authority to bring relief and justice to our immigrant brothers and sisters. As pastors, we welcome any efforts within these limits that protect individuals and protect and reunite families and vulnerable children.”

Segura said her office already is working with leaders from the Pastoral Migratoria, the archdiocese’s immigrant-to-immigrant ministry, to help people who might be eligible for relief under Obama’s action.

The first thing they must do is help people avoid fraudulent schemes aimed at trying to get victims to turn over large amounts of money for things that they shouldn’t have to pay for, or to take money without providing any services.

Msgr. Michael Boland, CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago, made the same point in a Nov. 25 statement pledging his agency’s assistance to immigrants.

“The most important thing right now is to avoid fraud. At this time, please advise anyone seeking help not to pay for assistance with administrative immigration relief application processing,” Boland’s statement said.

Next, they will work with Catholic Charities and CLINIC, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, to set up training sessions for Pastoral Migratoria leaders and other volunteers to help people complete their applications. Those sessions will be open to anyone, not just the 56 Hispanic parishes where the Pastoral Migratoria is active.

They also are working with the Mexican consulate to host sessions where Mexican nationals can come and fill out the forms they need to get matriculas consular, the identification card issued to Mexicans in the United States, or Mexican passports, since the first thing applicants for the new status will need to prove is who they are.

Consular officials are planning at least one Saturday session at the Cardinal Meyer Center, 3525 S. Lake Park Ave., and Segura said she hopes they also will hold weekend sessions in parishes.

According to the president’s announcement, it will be six months before the federal government is ready to take applications for the new status, and that gives undocumented immigrants time to prepare.

“The most important thing is to get documentation,” Segura said, showing not only their identity, but also that they have children who are U.S. citizens and that they have lived in the United States for at least five years.

Among the Pastoral Migratoria leaders who are gearing up for the effort is Cecilia Garcia, although the plan will not help her. Garcia, a member of St. Rita Parish, and her five children were all born in the United States, but her husband is among the 2 million people who have been deported since 2009.

The last time her children, now ages 8 to 17, saw their father was last Christmas, when a relative helped the family pay for a trip to Mexico. This year, she went to Mexico and asked at the border for her husband to be allowed into the United States on humanitarian parole while he awaits a decision on his petition for residency, but the request was denied.

Garcia said that everyone must remember that this is only a first step, even for those who qualify.

“This is only a temporary status,” she said. “And there are so many people this doesn’t help.”

That includes the parents of the students given temporary protection under DACA, Segura said.

“Immigration reform did not come,” Segura said. “There is plenty of work to do still. We will continue to fight until everyone is included.”

Boland also reiterated the importance the church places on more permanent and comprehensive immigration reform.

“We cannot be the church the Lord calls us to be without caring for the vulnerable and weakened among us,” Boland said. “The impact of these actions reinforces what the Catholic Church has advocated for decades: The importance of families staying together. The path to comprehensive immigration reform is long, and understandably complicated; this is a step in the right direction of valuing families that reflects the Gospel message of Jesus, and Catholic social teaching. Our hope is that this step will lead to a legal process that respects each person’s dignity and human rights, and protects families and children.


  • immigrants

Related Articles