Schaumburg church provides parishioners with immigration information

Be prepared. Have an emergency plan. Know your rights.

An immigration law expert offered that advice during a meeting Saturday evening at the Christian Pentecostal Center in Schaumburg.

About 50 people attended the event that church officials organized to answer questions, allay fears and advise churchgoers concerned about government proposals to curb immigration and deport undocumented people.

"There's a lot of misinformation," said Pastor Gerson Moreno, whose church was at the center of a well-publicized deportation controversy last year after a Palatine man sought sanctuary there when his wife and two children were apprehended and sent to a Texas detention facility. The entire family was subsequently deported.

Misinformation causes alarm, said Moreno, adding "we're trying to calm down nerves and fear with information." One of the biggest misconceptions has to do with a mass collection and mass deportation of undocumented people.

"We know the system can't handle that," he said, "but that piece of information has created a firestorm."

Moreno tells churchgoers having a green card is not enough.

"You need to apply for citizenship and that has to happen quickly," he said.

Gerald Cipolla, an immigration law expert and founder of the Cipolla Law Group in Chicago, spoke for more than two hours about ways undocumented people who meet certain criteria can legally remain in the country, how they can obtain waivers allowing them to stay here while pursuing a visa and how they can obtain citizenship.

Cipolla also discussed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals act; the U visa allowing victims of violent crimes who assist police to remain in the country with their families; visas available for women who've been victims of domestic violence; asylum for people who face persecution in their native country based on their race, religion or political affiliation

Cipolla attempted to soothe fears telling the crowd that those who are undocumented and have no criminal record are unlikely to be deported.

"But if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said, "that's a concerning actor for a lot of immigrants."

To that end, Cipolla suggested undocumented people have an emergency plan that includes arranging for someone to care for their children if they are detained and awarding a trusted friend or relative power of attorney, enabling him or her to take care of financial matters and property.

He advised people keep documents confirming their immigration status in a secure place. He suggested they carry a list of important phone numbers, ask to see a warrant signed by a judge if U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers come to their homes and silent when questioned by immigration authorities.

He also encouraged them to keep their vehicles in good working order and obey traffic and other laws.

"Don't give the police a reason to pick you up," Cipolla said.

"I don't want anyone to panic," he said, "just be prepared."

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