CHICAGO — A Chicago pastor who has been on a strict fast for weeks to show solidarity for DACA recipients and push for humane immigration laws, plans to take his protest to Washington March 4 and 5.
Congress must vote to save the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program by March 5. That is the deadline President Donald Trump gave Congress to find a permanent legislative solution that would help some 800,000 young adults living in the U.S. who were brought into the country without legal permission as children. Trump pulled the plug on DACA in September.
Father Gary Graf said he will march in front of the White House for 40 hours straight, from 9 a.m. (local Washington time) on March 4 through 5 p.m. on March 5.
It will be the priest’s final attempt to encourage Trump to extend DACA. As he marches he will hold placards illustrating the number of “Dreamers,” as DACA recipients are known, who are losing their status per day, 916, and per week, 6,412. By the end of March, he said, 25,648 will have lost DACA status.
At a news conference in Chicago Feb. 12, Graf joined dozens of priests and religious sisters and brothers who promised to fast at least one day a week throughout Lent in solidarity with young people who were brought to the United States without documents as children and now face the possibility of deportation from the only home many remember.
The press event and a prayer service was organized by the Priests for Justice for Immigrants and the Sisters and Brothers of Immigrants, a group that has pledged its support to the Dreamers.
Graf recounted the story of Jesus going out of his way to heal a man possessed by demons and isolated from his community. Like Jesus, he said, those who came forth at the prayer service and those who stand in solidarity with them are offering succor to those affected by the end of DACA.
“Today, we are legion,” he said. “Not possessed by demons but rather the spirit of Jesus Christ, who fasted and prayed. For indeed, as the Catholic faithful of this archdiocese, we stand today on the cusp between our Dreamers being either rejected and expelled from the only country they have known or being allowed full access to this great nation they call their home.”
Those present signed a calendar, marking the days they would fast to carry on Graf’s efforts, but the priest pledged to carry on his fast, even though others stood ready to carry it forward.
“We pray for the Dreamers, for our legislators and for ourselves,” said Benedictine Sister Benita Coffey, who opened the Feb. 12 service.
“One of our religious convictions is that prayer, fasting and almsgiving will work against hard hearts,” said Father Don Nevins, pastor of St. Agnes of Bohemia Parish. “Fasting is not just about giving witness. It is about joining our sacrifice to the sacrifice of Jesus.”
“We will atone on behalf of our brothers and sisters in this country who might be filled with hatred toward our Dreamers,” said Sister Dorothy Pagosa, a Sister of St. Joseph-Third Order of St. Francis.
Rabbi Paul Cohen of Temple Jeremiah in Northbrook joined in the prayer service. He spoke about God commanding that the Jewish people welcome strangers, and remember that they once were strangers in Egypt.
“In the Torah, we are commanded no less than 36 times to care for the stranger,” Rabbi Cohen said. “It’s repeated more times than any other command in the five books of Moses.”
What’s more, the rabbi said, God makes it clear that there will be consequences for those who do not heed that command.
“If we oppress those in our community who are the most vulnerable, God will hear their cry, just as he heard our cry when we were in Egypt,” he said.
Elena Segura, associate director of the Chicago Archdiocese’s Office of Human Dignity and Solidarity and senior coordinator for immigration, said her office will continue to work for a solution no matter how long it takes.
“Rachel in the Old Testament never stopped crying out to God,” she said. “The little children, the first martyrs, never stopped crying out to God. Neither will we.”
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(Martin is a staff writer at the Chicago Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.)