NORWALK— Religious and government leaders urged comprehensive immigration reform this evening at St. Jerome Church, and said it was time for good people to speak out against policies that are needlessly dividing families.
More than 300 gathered for the early evening vigil in support of Jung Courville, a St. Jerome parishioner and mother of two young children who faces deportation at the end of September.
Courville and her husband Richard, owners of a flower shop in Norwalk, were in attendance at the vigil and were mobbed by well wishers after the hour-long event.
“No one is a stranger here,” said Fr. David Blanchfield, Pastor of St. Jerome’s, as he began the vigil with a brief prayer asking to “keep the family together and stop the deportation.”
Fr. Blanchfield said the couple and their boys attend the 9:15 Mass at St. Jerome every Sunday morning, and last week he noticed that Richard was agitated and upset.
“When he told me the shocking news, I was horrified and outraged,” he told the gathering. “Our parish is in trouble because one of us is in trouble,” he said. “These people are givers, not takers.”
In his remarks to the gathering Richard Courville said he met his wife Jung in 2000 and they were married three years later. Their oldest son Christian was born with Spina Bifida in 2004 and needs constant care provided by his mother. Richard Jr. was born in 2009. Both boys are students at All Saints Catholic School in Norwalk.
“All life was stripped from me. With feelings of complete powerlessness and hopelessness, I turned my faith to God,” he said, thanking Fr. Blanchfield and parishioners for standing by him.
Courville said he and his wife immediately hired an immigration attorney in 2003 and have reported to ICE every year since and been granted stays of deportation.
Religious leaders who participated in the event said they were troubled by the separation of parents and children under current policy.
“This doesn’t make sense,” said Sister Peg Regan, SSND, who has worked with immigrant women in transition for over 22 years.
“She’s been a worker, mother, neighbor and wife in this community for 17 years,” she said, noting that the deportation order was “cruel and heartless to the family.”
“This is a time when we are in a narrow place,” said Rabbi Michael Friedman of Temple Israel in Westport, and “we need God’s help to redeem us from this narrow place.”
Rabbi Friedman said that no one in the Jewish community is too far from the Immigrant experience.
“The Torah says that it’s not right to oppress widows, orphans and strangers. We know what it’s like to be strangers in the land of Egypt,” he said.
Rev. Anthony Bennett, Pastor of Mt. Aery Baptist Church in Bridgeport, said it was important to move beyond stereotypes and recognize the humanity of immigrants.
“We came here tonight to say we are with you. We know what it’s like. You have the right to be here. We love you and will support you.”
Senator Richard Blumenthal who was greeted by a standing ovation before and after he spoke, said “We have an obligation to speak out. This is a humanitarian issue and a matter of national importance.”
Describing current immigration policy as “unreasonable, irrational and cruel,” Senator Blumenthal said more than 11 million people “are living the shadows.”
He urged people to continue to “bear witness and speak out for comprehensive immigration reform which can be done on a bipartisan basis.”
Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling welcomed those in attendance and began his remarks by asking for a show of hands, “How many of you have parents or grandparents that were born in another country?”
“We’re a nation of immigrants,” he said to applause. “This is not a time for good people to sit back and do nothing.”
At the end of the meeting, Fr. Blanchfield led the congregation in the singing of “God Bless America,” and those who attended were invited to sign a petition urging immigration officials in Hartford and Philadelphia to reconsider the denial of the stay of deportation.
The petition noted that Mrs. Courville has been in the U.S. since 1991, does not have a criminal record, and is an active member of the Norwalk community. She has also complied with yearly reporting requirements.
The prayer vigil was co-sponsored by CONECT, congregations organized for a new Connecticut, which includes St. Jerome Parish as a member.
Photos provided by the Center for Youth Leadership and the St. Jerome Facebook page