Sixteen parishioners sat in the pews of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Ravenswood for an unusual call Wednesday evening. Echoing through the church were the voices of three congressmen: U.S. Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-Chicago), Nydia Velasquez (D-N.Y.) and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.).
The three representatives had joined in a nationwide conference call, organized by Reform Immigration for America, urging constituents to push for immigration reform.
During two separate half-hour phone calls, the first in English and second in Spanish, they repeatedly encouraged constituents to pressure Congress to approve comprehensive immigration reform legislation. Gutierrez is expected to introduce it next month. Across Chicago, people gathered at more than 50 house parties organized by several grassroots community groups.
“I thought it was wonderful,” said the Rev. Michael Shanahan, pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes, 4640 N. Ashland Ave.
“Their purpose was to broaden the sense of grassroots movement and to engage as many as possible.” But the call did not engage as many Chicagoans as expected.
Five leaders in the Muslim and Arab community gathered in Bridgeview. Reema Ahmad, from the Muslim advocacy group CAIR-Chicago, said she had expected 15 participants. Theresa Mah hosted a party sponsored by four Asian-American organizations. She said while there weren’t as many people she had hoped for, the participants had a productive discussion after the call.
“I think it’s a very effective strategy,” Mah said of the call. “It brings people together. People want more information, they want to feel empowered, they want to know what they can do.”
In Bridgeport, 12 Africans huddled around a table in the office of the United African Organization. Lisa Simeone, the organization’s research advocacy policy coordinator, was pleased with Gutierrez’s effort.
“They knew they were talking to immigrants—and that’s hard to do,” Simeone said. “This call will help to catalyze conversations that will happen locally.”
Martine Apodaca, communications director of Reform Immigration for America Coalition, said the call was meant to organize grassroots efforts for immigration reform.
“It’s about the people who are going to do the work and going to be pushing for immigration reform,” he said Wednesday.
By the end of the call, 16,000 lines had tuned in nationwide. In Chicago, activists are waiting for the next step in immigration reform.
“The fact of the matter,” Ahmad said, “is that we all have something to lose if nothing is done.”