Approximately 50 immigrant rights activists held a prayer vigil outside the Chicago office of U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D, IL-3) Wednesday, hoping to convince the lawmaker to support comprehensive immigration reform.
Lipinski, who was one of only six Democrats in the U.S. House to support a Republican-authored restrictive abortion bill last month, has generally been unclear regarding his position on immigration reform and has not offered his support for legislation that was recently passed in the U.S. Senate.
“Monday, July 15, was Congressman Lipinski’s birthday, and I want to congratulate him because he could celebrate his birthday with his family. Today is my husband’s birthday, and because of the broken immigration system, he is not with his family,” said Carolina Rivera, 40, one of Wednesday’s demonstrators.
Rivera said her husband was deported to Mexico in 2011 following a routine traffic stop in Chicago. Having lived in the U.S. for 21 years, Rivera said he had no criminal record and “lived a normal, law-abiding life.”
She said their three children, ages 21, 15 and 11, are suffering because they cannot see their father.
“It’s been a really hard time and a big change in our lives,” Rivera, who is also undocumented and works in the Parent Mentor Program with Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP), said. “Because I am the only one to support my family, I cannot buy my children everything they want, and can barely get what they need.”
Rivera is one of roughly 150,000 immigrants who lived in Illinois’ 3rd congressional district in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Following 2011’s redistricting, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which organized Wednesday’s demonstration, reports the district is still home to a sizeable immigrant population, with roughly 24 percent of the residents being Latino.
“We come here today reminding our Congressman Lipinski that he doesn’t just represent his own family, the Lipinski family; he doesn’t just represent part of a family of a particular political party; because he also is part of an intense debate he should remember first and foremost, we are all part of God’s family,” said Fr. Brendan Curran, pastor at St. Pius V Parish, who facilitated Wednesday’s prayer vigil.
Curran called on Lipinski to support inclusive immigration reform that would provide a pathway to citizenship for all of America’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.
The bipartisan Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act Of 2013, or S. 744, passed in the Senate by a 68-32 vote last month and now faces an uncertain future in the GOP-led House.
Meanwhile, a House-drafted immigration reform bill has yet to surface in the lower chamber, as lawmakers continue to grapple over conditions for immigrant citizenship, such as border security and health care.
President Barack Obama said on Tuesday immigration reform legislation is not likely to reach his desk before the August recess.
“No one wrote in the scripture whether or not (Joseph and Mary) presented their papers in order,” said Curran during Wednesday’s prayer vigil. “They fled with great hopes, in need of restoring, and cognizant of, their own dignity.”
Curran said majority of the members in his church, which is located in Chicago’s Southwest Side neighborhood of Pilsen, are either undocumented themselves or have family members who are undocumented:
Several aspects of the Senate’s immigration reform legislation drew ire from at least one of Wednesday’s protesters, including provisions that applicants must spend $2,000, adhere to strict work requirements and wait up to 10 years for a green card.
“The bill is not perfect,” said Mayra Lopez, 24, an organizer with The Resurrection Project who helped plan Wednesday’s prayer vigil. “There are a lot of things that could be improved to make citizenship easier for all of us.”
The bill also appropriates more than $46 billion for further militarization of America’s southern border, something Lopez called “unnecessary.”
Lopez, who migrated from Mexico more than 15 years ago, can stay lawfully in the U.S. temporarily under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which grants a two-year deferral of deportation for undocumented immigrants who came to the sates at a young age.
“But overall, we’re glad that we have something on the table,” she added. “At least we have something.”
Lopez added that she was optimistic Lipinski would support comprehensive immigration reform. The congressman recently voted against an amendment to the House-passed 2014 Department of Homeland Security spending bill that would defund DACA.
A representative from Lipinski’s office did not return requests for comment on this story by deadline.
Lopez, a resident of the 3rd congressional district, signed one of more than 7,000 postcards, demanding “just and compassionate” immigration reform, that were left at Lipinski’s office following Wednesday’s prayer vigil.
“We need Lipinski to come out strong for immigration reform,” she said. “There are a lot of people in his district that are directly impacted by our broken system and he could be a champion for us.”