Chicagoland

Gathering calls for immigration policy to recognize human dignity of immigrants

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
March 2, 2018

Gathering calls for policy to recognize human dignity of immigrants

The United States must do a better job of welcoming immigrants and refugees, not because of what they can do for the country but because they are human beings. That was the main message of “You Are My Neighbor. Immigration: Who Is Affected, Why You Should Care and What You Can Do,” a March 1 gathering hosted by Southside Catholic Peace and Justice and more than 40 faith groups and community organizations at St. Barnabas Church, 10134 S. Longwood Drive.
Father Gary Graf, left, was among the participants who gathered at St. Barnabas Parish for an evening of prayer and discussion on immigration on March 1, 2018. "You Are My Neighbor" was the theme for the interfaith gathering, which included discussion, music and poetry. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Irakere Picon, a DACA recipient and staff attorney at the National Immigrant Justice Center, shares his story at "You Are My Neighbor," a March 1, 2018, interfaith gathering to discuss immigration at St. Barnabas Parish. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Rev. Linda Wygant of Grace Seeds Ministry reflects on what immigrants have meant to the United States at the March 1, 2018, "You Are My Neighbor" gathering at St. Barnabas Parish. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Mercy Sisters JoAnn Persch and Pat Murphy, who minister to detained immigrants in local jails, listen to speakers address immigration issues at the "You Are My Neighbor" gathering at St. Barnabas Parish March 1, 2018. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Participants gathered at St. Barnabas Parish for an evening of prayer and discussion on immigration on March 1, 2018. "You Are My Neighbor" was the theme in which Catholics joined people of other faiths for an evening of discussion, music and poetry to develop a better understanding of the current immigration issues and proposed federal changes. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Precious Blood Sister Mumbi Kigutha (center) speaks as Mary Meg McCarthy and Irakere Picon listen during “You Are My Neighbor,” an evening of prayer and discussion about immigration on March 1, 2018, at St. Barnabas Parish in the Beverly neighborhood. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Participants gathered at St. Barnabas Parish for "You Are My Neighbor," an evening of prayer and discussion on immigration on March 1, 2018. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Holy Cross Brother Francisco Gillette, from Ghana, plays an African drum to open and close the "You Are My Neighbor" event at St. Barnabas Parish March 1, 2018. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Ayah Chehade performs a spoken-word poem at "You Are My Neighbor" March 1, 2018, at St. Barnabas Parish. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) speaks about his efforts to pass the DREAM Act at "You Are My Neighbor" March 1, 2018, at St. Barnabas Parish. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

The United States must do a better job of welcoming immigrants and refugees, not because of what they can do for the country but because they are human beings.

That was the main message of “You Are My Neighbor. Immigration: Who Is Affected, Why You Should Care and What You Can Do,” a March 1 gathering hosted by Southside Catholic Peace and Justice and more than 40 faith groups and community organizations at St. Barnabas Church, 10134 S. Longwood Drive.

The event — part prayer service, part consciousness-raising and part seminar — addressed everything from the international refugee crisis to proposals to cut the number of legal immigrants allowed into the United States in half. Much of the discussion focused on the plight of young people who were brought to the United States illegally as children and are now are seeking a way to remain as adults with legal status.

Those young adults, often called “Dreamers” after a bill called the DREAM Act that would have provided a path to citizenship for them, got some relief from the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals administrative program created by President Barack Obama in 2012. 

DACA allows recipients to live in the United States without being deported and gives them permission to work legally.

President Donald Trump announced in September 2017 that the program would end March 6, but those who receive protection for deportation are being allowed to renew their status until a legal challenge works its way through the court system.

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, who has sponsored DREAM Act legislation multiple times starting in 2000 and up to this year, told the congregation that he will keep trying.

“When I speak to those young people, I tell them I won’t give up on them,” Durbin said. “And I ask them not to give up on me and on this country.”

The first speaker of the evening was Irakere Picon, a DACA recipient who was brought to Illinois by his parents on a tourist visa before his second birthday. Picon was able to finish college despite being ineligible for federal or state financial aid because his parents took out a second mortgage on their home and maxed out their credit cards, and he got some private scholarships. 

After being accepted to Northern Illinois University’s law school, he made his case to the dean and was able to get private scholarship funding to pay his tuition. He was one of the first DACA recipients admitted to the Illinois bar and now is a staff attorney for the National Immigrant Justice Center.

“Every step of the way, when there’s been a new chapter, there have been people who have helped me and mentored me,” Picon said. “We need to figure out how each one of us can help our neighbor.”

Rev. Linda Wygant of Grace Seeds Ministry said the group that gathered at St. Barnabas, which included people from around the globe and of many faiths, was a microcosm “of the beautiful diversity God has made.”

While the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service recently deleted a line in its mission statement that described the United States as a “nation of immigrants,” Wygant said, “they cannot erase our history or dictate our future.”

They also cannot erase the humanity of people who come to the United States, whether they arrive as refugees, as asylum seekers or as undocumented immigrants.

“Human beings have names,” she said. “No one is an alien or an undocumented. We are brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters.”

Sister of the Precious Blood Mumbi Kigutha, who has worked with refugees internationally and in the United States, said she was dismayed when President Trump made remarks that implied immigrants from Africa were of no value to the United States, and African immigrants started posting lists of their accomplishments on social media.

“As a Christian, I say the only status you need to have the right to be anywhere is human being,” she said.

Father Don Nevins, pastor of St. Agnes of Bohemia Parish, 2651 S. Central Park Ave., spoke of going to a former detention center in Broadview to pray on the mornings people were being deported. After a time, the authorities began to allow priests and religious men and women to board the buses of deportees being sent to the airport to pray and offer them a blessing.

“The men were in a cage on the bus, and they were all in leg irons, all shackled,” Nevins said. “That’s the way people would see them get off the bus at the airport, that’s the way they would fly to their home countries, where they would be dropped off, maybe nowhere near where they came from. We say these are our brothers and sisters in Christ, but no one would treat their brother or sister that way.”

Nevins, whose parish is made up predominantly of Mexican immigrants and their children and grandchildren, also said he encouraged many young people to enroll in DACA when it became available, despite their fears about sharing their information with the government.
“I never imagined that it would end like this, so soon,” he said.

Mary Meg McCarthy, executive director of the National Immigrant Justice Center, spoke of the plight of people fleeing from their home countries as refugees or asylum seekers. The world is experiencing its biggest refugee crisis ever, and the United States has cut the number of refugees it will accept in half, she said.

At the same time, those who come and ask for asylum are being forced into detention centers. Mothers who seek asylum are being separated from their children, and their cases are being considered separately. 

“We have become a country that is mean and cruel to other human beings,” she said.

Father Gary Graf, pastor of St. Procopius/Providence of God Parish in Pilsen, said that’s not the nature of the United States or its people.

“We truly are a blessed nation, a generous and blessed nation,” Graf said.

Since Jan. 15, Graf has been fasting from food in solidarity with DACA recipients and those eligible to receive DACA. 

His request, he said, is simple.

“Don’t look at immigration as a topic,” he said. “Look at it as human beings.”

 

Topics:

  • immigration
  • immigration reform
  • daca

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