CHICAGO – Speaking at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Albany Park here, Archbishop Cardinal Francis George called on President Obama to put a stop to deportation raids and to pass fair and compassionate comprehensive immigration reform this year.

The Archdiocese of Chicago and several immigrant rights and religious groups organized the prayer forum. Organizers of the event said more than 360,000 families have been split up due to deportations over the past year.

“Our Church teaches that the family is sacred,” said George before more than 2,000 people at the North Side church on March 21.

George added that families are “the cradle of life, the core institution of society. To separate families, wives from husbands, children from parents, is to diminish what God has joined,” he said.

George went on to say that Obama should enact legislation that fixes the broken immigration system, which currently is inadequate and does more damage than good.

“Such reform would be a clear sign this administration is truly about change,” said George.

George said passing immigration reform is a moral issue calling it “a matter of conscience” and an important part of developing a more peaceful society. He also talked about the devastating results raids have on families where a culture of hate continues to increase in the absence of better border enforcement.

Immigrant families are too often subjected to harsh conditions and brutal treatment in border territories, said George. They also face discrimination and are exploited by employers and unscrupulous lawyers, he added.

“We cannot strengthen families when people live in fear from day to day,” he said.

“There is a darkness cast upon many families living among us who have been caught between the need for cheap labor and badly broken immigration laws,” said George. “We … are called to be that light for those forced onto the shadows.”

Last week, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met with President Obama and Latino lawmakers are hopeful Obama will tackle the issue later this year.

But according to U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) who attended the Chicago event, Obama did not say he would order a moratorium on enforcement measures. Gutierrez, a leading advocate for ending raids and deportations, began a 20-city national tour of prayer vigils and town-hall meetings in November. He has collected thousands of signatures on petitions asking for immigration reform.