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Northeast Ohio undocumented immigrants praying for a miracle
St. Casimir's has gone trilingual -- Polish, Spanish and English -- as the 123-year-old church welcomes undocumented workers fighting deportation

Kabir Bhatia
The Spanish-speaking parishioners at St. Casimir's come from all over Northeast Ohio to pray for miracles like the one that reopened the shuttered church in 2012
Courtesy of K. Bhatia
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St. Casimir's church -- on Cleveland's east side -- has become ground zero for a group fighting deportations. And as WKSU's Kabir Bhatia reports, they’re crediting faith.
Northeast Ohio undocumented immigrants praying for a miracle

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St. Casimir's – a 123-year-old congregation, mostly Polish -- was closed by the diocese in 2009, but then ordered reopened by the Vatican in 2012. Parishioners consider that miracle enough. But then, not long after re-opening, members of Latino advocacy group HOLA began coming in to pray for undocumented workers facing deportation. John Niedzialek grew up at St. Casimir's, and has returned in recent years.

“When the first family came, we had a priest visit our church that week and he spoke Spanish. And he was able to lead that mass by some strange coincidence. We see many strange coincidences if you're not a believer, OK? You wanna call them that? We call them miracles.”

Since it reopened, the church has gone trilingual, in Polish, English and Spanish.

Praying for a miracle
Father-of-three Luis Nicasio has faced deportation since police discovered his status during a routine traffic stop.

“This church is something special for us because they give us hope. And [they’re] always with us: Polish people and the Latino community. Maybe [be]cause they used to be immigrants, too. So they are in our shoes. They know what we feel.”

He’s now awaiting work authorization so he can get back to his job as a machinist. Over the weekend, he prayed with almost four dozen other Spanish-speaking St. Casimir’s members, hoping that Pedro Hernandez-Ramirez can also avoid deportation in coming weeks.

“He’s waiting for a miracle. He’s trusting in Obama to give him a miracle. And he feels relieved. He feels much better.”

Seleste Wisniewski-Hernandez translated for her husband, Pedro. He’s been deported from the U.S. four times before. He was granted a one-year stay last year. But in August, his request for another stay was rejected, and he has until the end of this month to produce travel papers that could send him back to Mexico. If that happens, he’d leave behind their 6-year-old son, and two of Seleste’s kids. There’s a 17-year-old daughter. And then there’s Juan. Pedro is the only person who can physically lift his stepson, a 25-year-old with cerebral palsy. HOLA Executive Director Veronica Dahlberg.

“There is a tight bond between the two. When Pedro speaks to our organization, I see Juan look at him with such love and admiration. And I cannot fathom separating these two. Because if Pedro is deported, he literally will not be allowed back for who-knows-how long; at least 10 years. They may never see eachother again.”

Every story is unique, but Pedro’s situation is symbolic of the struggle of many undocumented immigrants.

Trying for reform
Dahlberg says her meetings with lawmakers about immigration reform have been occasionally helpful and occasionally frustrating. But with Congress on an early vacation this year, there’s not much that can be done before the mid-term elections.

“I get very vague and noncommittal responses. Very ambiguous. And unfortunately, that kind of ambiguity and lack of strong leadership has really left a vacuum. So where you have agencies like ICE and border patrol who are trying to do their jobs and do the right thing – pretty much [it becomes] anything goes.’”

Dahlberg says, despite the miracles at St. Casimir’s, Pedro Hernandez-Ramirez, Luis Nicasio and others like them face – at best – a state of limbo, with the looming risk of being picked up at any time.
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