DETROIT — In a crowded church sanctuary, Rep Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) brought his immigration reform “Family Unity” listening tour to this city, the 14th stop in a 20-city tour sponsored by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

With tears streaming down their faces, hundreds heard the gut-wrenching testimony of mothers and fathers, all U.S. citizens, whose loved ones were abruptly deported. There is a “sense of heartbreak when the person you rely on is taken away,” Gutierrez commented.

Maria testified with all four of her children, all born in Detroit, by her side. Her father had worked 22 years in meatpacking and her mother labored in the auto parts industry. Both were seriously hurt on the job.

Last year, as the family returned home from grocery shopping, Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) agents, with guns drawn, pulled their car over. They yelled at her to exit the car but she was eight months pregnant and had difficulty getting out. Her husband, Felipe, was taken away. She was never told of his whereabouts until after he was deported.

Her children are now having difficulty in school and fear anyone in uniform. She is in danger of losing her home. “As a mother I am angry. I ask you to speak to President Obama and pass immigration reform,” she told Gutierrez and the audience.

In 2007, ICE agents took Virginia’s husband away from her and their son. At the time she too was pregnant. She asked to have her husband released under supervision, but was denied. The incident caused severe emotional stress and she lost her baby.

Noting how children traditionally bring fruit to their teachers to show appreciation, she said her son has offered that “he would give a red shiny apple if you let my daddy back.”

In 1999, Eduardo went to Mexico, fell in love and got married in 2001. Tired of waiting endlessly for papers allowing her to enter the U.S. legally, she crossed the border on her own. Reunited in Detroit, they began a family and now have three children. Papers were filed to legalize her residency. The couple went back to Mexico thinking they could obtain legal entry for her last May. But they had poor legal advice, and U.S. officials denied her reentry. The couple’s three children stayed with their mother in Mexico. “I want to be with my family again. I love my wife and I love my children. The government took them away,” Eduardo cried.

Suzanne is married to Raul. He has no criminal record, they pay taxes, live a life filled with love since they were married but they are terrified because he is an undocumented immigrant.

Sitting next to me was Eusebia Aquino-Hughes, chairperson of the National Hispanic Civil Rights Council, Detroit Chapter. She handed me testimony she had given earlier in the day.

She is of Puerto Rican descent but more than once has been racially profiled and targeted by ICE agents during workplace raids. She said over 32,000 Latinos, some regardless of their proven citizenship, are being incarcerated in detentions centers across the nation. “The only crime is the color of their skin, their Hispanic surname and the sound of their tongue,” she said. “I am a nurse, not a terrorist.”

Two local Congressmembers spoke: Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick and House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers. Conyers, to a thunderous roar, said ICE employees who “keep threatening everybody” should be “kicked out.” He pledged to make sure that is done.

Both Kilpatrick and Conyers are African American. Expressing appreciation to them and to the Congressional Black Caucus, Gutierrez said, “No one has demonstrated a dedication to our civil rights as much as the African American community.” He noted that Black Americans had “fundamentally witnessed the pain of families being ripped apart during slavery.”

The event, held at Greater Apostolic Faith Temple on March 25, was organized by MOSES, a Detroit faith-based community organization. The Rev. Kevin Turman, its president, called for sending “a loud and clear message that families are the pillars of our communities, churches and nation. We surely can keep the nation whole and safe without breaking families apart.”

We are “aware that our President has many challenges,” Turman said, “but we are saying: put one more thing on your agenda, immigration reform.”

Maybe, just maybe, we are finally on the verge of positive change.

jrummel @