Christine Stuart photo

The faithful and the political gathered Sunday at Our Lady of Mercy in Plainville to talk about their two top issues: Universal Health Care and Immigration Reform.

Vivian Nowakowski’s life has been touched by both issues.

Nowakowski, the wife of a Polish immigrant slated for deportation, suffers from kidney disease and fears if her husband is deported she will die because she will be unable to qualify for a life-saving kidney transplant.

Nowakowski told a group of more than 50 people gathered at the United Action Connecticut meeting Sunday that after working and living in the United States for 35 years her husband lost his wallet, including his green card, which he held since 1978.

She said her husband who has lived in the United States since he was 9 years old had a criminal record, but had served his time in prison. She said in 2007 he went to reapply for his green card and was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in April 2008.

She said he is currently being detained at a detention center in Rhode Island.

“My life is in jeopardy,” she said. She said in order to qualify for a kidney transplant she needs to have her husband at home, since he is her sole caregiver. Her son is a US Marine serving his second tour of duty in Iraq.

“No immigrant is safe,” Nowakowski said. “If my husband is deported, surely my life will come to an end.”

Nowakowski is not alone.

Rev. Antonio Jorge Tchingui, who came to the United States from Angola in 2000, said he applied for a green card in 2004. Four years later he has been unable to attain one. “Sometimes the way they complicate the process makes you feel unworthy,” Tchingui said.

He said he’s worried about what will happen if his Visa expires. He said he’s not afraid to be sent back home, but he’s worried the Portuguese community, which attend Our Lady of Fatima Church in Hartford will be unable to find a Portuguese speaking priest to replace him.

Michael Boyle, an attorney and former president of the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association, said it now takes clergy more than six years to obtain a green card and it takes professionals like doctors from seven to 10 years to obtain a green card. He said there’s also no way for anyone who has overstayed a tourist visa to obtain citizenship.

He said up until 1997 there was a high degree of discretion given to immigration judges. He said now even a minor infraction can get someone deported. He said all a judge can look at now is their offenses. He said previously a judge was able to balance their time spent in the United States against the offense.

Before leaving those in attendance Sunday were asked to sign a community pledge regarding immigration policy, including encouraging “in-state tuition” for all resident students who have graduated from high school and because of their immigration status are unable to go to college.

Last year a bill allowing in-state tuition for undocumented residents passed the legislature but was vetoed by Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

Lawmakers in attendance Sunday vowed to raise the issue of universal health care again next year too.