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Angry priest fighting for immigration reform

Father Brendan Curran

Father Brendan Curran

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Updated: January 9, 2014 6:40AM

There are hundreds of immigration reform activists across the country who also counsel those in despair over pending deportations. Their work is often driven by the nightmarish realities of undocumented immigrants.

On Friday, I received an unusual call in that I heard from an angry priest at his wit’s end over stalled immigration reform.

Fr. Brendan Curran of St. Pius V in Pilsen called while standing outside the third-floor West Chicago office of Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam, R-Ill. Curran said that Roskam’s staffers closed the office and turned out the lights upon the arrival of his group of 12 clergymen and reform advocates. Eventually, police escorted the group from the building.

Curran was at a boiling point over inaction by the House of the Representatives on reform.

“Disrespectful and disgraceful,” Curran said after explaining that his group, which Friday included a few leaders of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, has made repeated attempts to meet with Roskam without getting a response.

A spokeswoman for Roskam, Stephanie Kittredge, didn’t respond to a question on whether Curran’s group will get a meeting, but said in an email that the congressman has met more than 60 times with constituents and reform advocates.

“Currently, the House of Representatives is working on small, targeted pieces of legislation to address various parts of immigration reform,” she added.

Piecemeal reform is hard for Curran to stomach because he and other reform advocates across the country are confident the Senate’s comprehensive bill would pass in the Republican-controlled House if taken up for a vote.

“It’s not politically convenient for the House to pass the bill,” Curran said. “What do I say to the families who are affected?

“My job as a pastor is not meant to deal with deportation.”

Therein lies Curran’s frustration. He is taxed and exhausted from being on the front lines of deportations and the anxiety permeating immigrant communities.

“We’re tired,” Curran said. “I’m sick of dealing with this every day. It’s not my job to fix this. We do not train in the seminaries to be lawyers.”

A day earlier, Curran tracked down an immigration lawyer for an undocumented immigrant in his parish. The man had a pending court date over expired license plates, which should not result in deportation, especially because Cook County has a sanctuary ordinance. But the man was distressed because the police officer who issued the ticket threatened him with deportation, Curran said.

Last week, Curran counseled a group of undocumented immigrants over lost jobs and possible deportation after a disgruntled co-worker reported them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“This is a national crisis,” Curran said of stalled reform and the Obama administration’s alarming record for deportations, earning the president the title of deporter-in-chief in a recent headline for The Guardian.

The Obama administration’s company line is that it deports criminals, but deportees and their families tell a different story. And they tell those stories to community leaders like Curran, who feels his own sense of despair that multiplies when a door is slammed in his face.

“Those looking to share their views on immigration reform are always encouraged to contact our office to schedule an in-person meeting,” Roskam’s spokeswoman said.

She can bet that Curran will not stop trying.


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