Statement on Migration – Chicago

Migration, Population & Agenda 2030:

Collaborating to achieve the SDGs for all through the Perspectives of Migrants & Refugees

UNITED NATIONS — 12 April 2016


The following response was presented by

Rev. Anthony B. Pizzo, O.S.A., M.Div.

McHenry County Detention Center is located approximately 60 miles Northwest of Chicago. It is one of several detention centers that detain people who have immigration cases. I am a member of a ministerial team that visits the jail on the 5th Tuesday of the month. It is a grueling day for travel in the morning (no less than 1 hour and a half) and return trip is more than 2 hours. However, what happens between the morning arrival and the afternoon departure is worth the stress of traffic. We meet with several groups throughout the day starting with the women detainees who are followed by the men’s groups. We sit with each of the detainees who share with us their story on how they wound up at the detention center. Some were arrested in the state of Illinois and others are brought to this detention center from as far as California, all waiting to process their respective cases. Many sign for deportation rather than fight the case. Others refuse to sign with legal counsel representing them to push case to its limit, depending on the nature of the offense. It can be a drug/dui case or simply driving without a valid drivers license to a back break light not functioning while they are driving.

As with any of these cases, each person has his/her own story. Several that I have spent time with are young people who have been in the U.S. most of their lives and whose respective families are here with few or no relatives in their country of origin. These are difficult cases because for these individuals, they are being deported to unfamiliar surrounding and at great distance from their families here. Most face the heartache of family separation. I have heard some very dramatic personal stories and have accompanied some to their court dates (Chicago cases) to offer support. When the more dramatic cases of separation of spouses from each other or parents from their children gnaws at me I cannot help but recall the words of Pope Francis on the island of Lampedusa in 2013 when referring to the migrants who lost their lives:

Has any one of us wept for these persons…? For young mothers carrying their babies? For these men who were looking for a means of supporting their families? We are a society, which has forgotten how to weep, how to experience compassion.

It is these stories, each with its own circumstances that offer the listener insights in the plight of these persons with no status who are simply seeking to sustain themselves and their families.

At times, retrieving information or clear hard data is a challenge. Although the 2010 Census attempted to be much more comprehensive in its data regarding Latino immigrants than its predecessor, it still falls short of demonstrating real numbers. Why? Even through assertive efforts of local community organizations and agencies that have access to the data, even through census campaigns at our local churches, synagogues and mosques, there are always a certain percentage of people without status that remain hidden in the shadows for fear of being found out and deported.

Right now in the state of Illinois we face a major budget crisis. The legislators refuse to vote on a budget that is wrought with major cuts to social programming that has previously funded social service agencies that offer direct service to people of low income, no significant income or persons of irregular status who struggle to make ends meet. Catholic Charities of Chicago is one of these major agencies from which people of irregular status have benefitted. These would be families and individuals who do not have social security status and who seek employment per diem. It is unconscionable that people, especially, those, who through no fault of their own must suffer the consequences of this lack of consideration for basic needs. The churches and other religious institutions in a given neighborhood such as mine are now facing the challenge of supplying resources that many of these people would have generally received through the social service agencies albeit these resources are very limited.

I want to emphasize a very important point to our local approach namely that we not only speak through the DATA we are able to retrieve and we do not simply lament over the lack of DATA but rather we focus on immigration related issues centered around dignity, trust and the common good.

We respect first and foremost the listening and the engaging of the people directly impacted by the issues in the solutions to the issues. The personal narrative moves our communities to action and solutions.

To give you some context, we are in four communities on the SW Side of Chicago. The area around St. Rita of Cascia Parish is of mixed racial, ethnic and religious communities. St. Rita Parish is more than 95% Latino immigrant generation. Approximately 1/3 of this population is of irregular status. These are young families who either rent apartments or homes owned by property owners. They are generally laborers with basic skills.

When it comes to purchasing a home, in many instances undocumented people have cash in savings twice the amount of people with status and are still not able to purchase a house because they have no or very limited access to credit.

For example, imagine people without status not getting paid by their employers. In many cases they have no recourse to get their pay without making themselves vulnerable for deportation.

Everyday realities are very different for people without status. Fathers or mothers driving with a broken headlight going to work or returning from work, getting stopped and being detained and then being reported to ICE to investigate their status and winding up in a detention center for processing with the risk of being deported. Families are broken.

In my pastoral care this happens often. I not only respond pastorally, but I am also actively engaged in working for structural change on behalf of our respective communities impacted by these problems. We are very fortunate to have a community organization (Southwest Organizing Project – SWOP) comprised of approximately 30 member institutions (churches, mosques, synagogues, schools and other agencies) who work as a collective addressing these issues and anything related to comprehensive and compassionate immigration reform.

We have implemented Pastoral Migratoria, a ministry developed by the Office of Immigration Affairs and Education in the Archdiocese of Chicago, which accompanies immigrants of regular and irregular status toward citizenship.

At a state level we created a larger basis for safety with passing of

  • Temporary Visitor Driver’s License in Illinois (Dec 2013)
  • Working to win access to higher education for undocumented children who are high numbers in our community
  • DACA Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.  For the first time, youth are bringing resources to the family, and they can do this legally.
  • Detention Center visitation regularly – STOP Deportation
  • Citizenship classes and “Know Your Rights” workshops

This population has impacted whole neighborhoods and regions of the city. Its removal would be practically (economically) as well as morally devastating. The local economy depends upon the residents of our respective communities to patronize the commercial businesses invested in our neighborhoods. Housing would be affected also since the majority of the immigrant population rent or pay a mortgage.

It would be enormously costly not to find a way for immigrant families living here to achieve full legal status, to participate in the life of their community, their city, and their country. It also actually and tangibly impacts the families and communities in the countries they left due to the fact that most immigrant households support their families or relatives in their country of origin.

It’s imperative to understand the human and economic cost of mass deportation, which some in our country are advocating. Immigrants benefit our economy, much more than they cost it.

It’s not only an economic cost but also a human cost.  Mass deportation would be a disaster to the stability of our local community due to the huge concentration of immigrants in our area.

The clergy of the respective religious institutions bring prayer and justice together.  Many of us live and work directly with the immigrant population. Chicago clergy (diocesan and religious) several years ago formed an organization called Priests for Justice for Immigrants and Brothers and Sisters of Immigrants. We address the issue not only theoretically but practically also.  We approach the issue as a personal one.

In this Jubilee Year of Mercy we reflect more profoundly on the connection between Justice and Mercy…Aquinas says: Mercy without justice is the mother of dissolution and justice without mercy is cruelty.

Demographic update – March 2016

SWOP serves neighborhoods that are 62% Latino, 27% African American and 10% White.

SWOP’s local schools report a poverty rate of at least 80% according to USDA figures from local schools.  This percentage represents the number of students eligible for free lunch, which is based on 130% of the poverty level or $26,400 for a family of four.

The median income in our community varies considerably across our service area;

  • Chicago Lawn $33,000,
  • Gage Park $37,000,
  • West Elsdon $46,000,
  • West Lawn $47,000,

Chicago Lawn, in which a majority of our member institutions are located, has an unemployment rate of 19.6%.

Only 63% of the population in Chicago Lawn that is 25 or over has a high school diploma or equivalent, while 11% have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Politically SWOP currently covers sections of the 13th  (Alderman Quinn), 14th (Alderman Burke), 15th  (Alderman Lopez); 16th (Alderman Foulkes), 17th (Alderman Moore) 18th (Alderman Curtis) and 23rd wards (Zalewski); IL Senate districts 1 (A Muñoz)  3 (M. Hunter), 11 (M Sandoval), and 16 (J Collins), and the corresponding IL House districts, 1 (D Burke) 6 (S Harper), 22 (M Madigan), 31 (M Flowers), 32 (A Thapedi), and US Congressional 1st  (Rush), 3rd (Lipinski), 4th (Gutierrez) and 7th Districts (Davis).

My estimate of the undocumented population for our 5 community areas is approximately 30,831, (data available at this time).

Gage Park      11,000

Chicago Lawn  6,000

West Lawn       6,000

West Elsdon     4,009

Ashburn            3,822

I extrapolated the above from Rob Paral’s estimates from West Lawn, Gage Park, and Chicago Lawn communities listed in ICIRR’s 2014 Illinois’ Undocumented Immigrant Population: A Summary of Recent Research by Rob Paral and Associate.

(Very good report and excellent graphics from NPNA National Partnership for New Americans)