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Different backgrounds, one goal

by Olubunmi Ishola and Christa Hillstrom

May 01, 2008 Medill Reports Chicago - LINK

White people get deported too

Tony Wasilewski shows a picture of his family – smiling faces of his wife, Janina, himself, and in between them, their son Brian.

As a Polish immigrant, Wasilewski, 39, is here to speak on his family's behalf. He is separated from his wife and son because of immigration laws, and wants to see reform.

"It's not only a Latino problem," Wasilewski said. "It's not just people from South America, or Central America."

Both Tony and Janina Wasilewski came to the United States in 1989. Janina had applied for political asylum. But she was denied this asylum in 1994, a year after the couple was married and began to build their lives.

At one point, Wasilewski said, they were given new papers to sign.

"They did not explain what it was, how it worked," he said. The papers were agreeing to Janina's "voluntary departure" from the United States, making her an illegal immigrant if she continued to stay in the country.

Wasilewski said they began working with lawyers, and each year tried to legalize Janina's immigration status. But last year, a judge ruled for Janina to be deported.

Wasilewski said they thought it'd be best for their son, who was 6, to be with his mother.

Because of immigration bureaucracy, the Wasilewski family is separated. Wasilewski said his son, who is an American citizen, is always asking, "Why does this country not like his mother?"

"People are deported from all over the place," he said. "Every day it happens – it's a nightmare. If we keep families together, our country will be strong."

All God’s people

The Chicago Metropolitan Sanctuary educates people of faith about the routes of migration, empowering them to be allies of immigration and fight against deportation.

“We are here as people of faith, saying that all people are God’s children and all people deserve justice,” said Jennifer Hill, an ordained reverend with the coalition’s New Sanctuary Movement. “And particularly in this situation we are saddened and outraged that mothers are being separated from their children.”

The coalition is a ministry composed of several congregations with varying religious backgrounds, Hill said. For more than 20 years they have been involved in immigration rights, she said, starting with Central American refugees in the 1980s.

Now they are focusing on what Hill said are unjust activities against immigrants.

“The threats are increasing. Raids are increasing. Deportations are increasing,” she said. “The time is now for legalization and just reform.”

Hill said her organization will continue to work, and wait, for the day things change. Until then, they will march to deliver this message:

“We hope as voices of faith and conscience, we can impact this very divisive climate positively,” she said. “And that we can say that immigrants are God’s children, just as everyone else.”

A world without boundaries

Bob Schwartz is an activist with the Gay Liberation Network. As a member of a social group that has been disenfranchised and discriminated in the past, he said, people need to be out in the streets making demands on the government.

“We don’t take a narrow, single issue of gay identity in our work,” Schwartz said. “We think there are a lot of things wrong with the United States.”

He said his organization is marching for the rights of gay immigrants, who deserve the same rights as heterosexual immigrants. Many in the gay and lesbian community, Schwartz said, have partners in other countries, but do not have the legal ability to bring them into the United States.

“What we want to achieve for immigrant rights is to pressure the government to codifying equal rights,” he said.

They are also marching for workers across the world, Schwartz said, noting that big business can operate in any country it wants to, but workers can’t.

“Why is it that workers have to observe boundaries when business interests don’t?” he said. “There should be no borders for working people, just as there are no borders for business interests.”

Participating in May Day March is important, he said – even for the groups that already have their full rights, and are not directly affected by discrimination.

“If they do it to somebody else, they can do it to you,” Schwartz said. “I think it’s important to achieve a more just society.”


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