CHICAGO -- Undocumented immigrants fearing deportation are set to get help from their fellow parishioners.
Churches in the Pilsen neighborhood are planning to deal with families that may get separated by President Donald Trump's new executive order.
With fear of a Washington-directed deportation force running high in Latino neighborhoods, Ash Wednesday services were punctuated with a call for pre-emptive help - sign up now to take in the kids of those who get kicked out of the country
"It's out there. It is in the atmosphere," said Fr. Michael Enright, St. Paul Catholic Church. "People are wound up about it."
St. Paul, along with St. Procopious and St. Pius are matching citizen parishioners with those who think they're vulnerable. Fr. Enright, who ministered to the disenfranchised for years on the South Side before going to Pilsen seven years ago, is thinking ahead to a conversation he hopes doesn't happen
"'Where's my mom and dad? Oh, some guys came from the government and took them,'" Enright said. "'They are just gone...' It is just unbelievable to me that might happen."
Longtime community organizer Mary Gonzalez, at 76, is ready to have young ones around again.
"We will keep them connected with their parents until their parents can resolve their issues - be that a week, a month, a year, two years, five years - it doesn't matter," said Gonzalez.
Gonzalez calls the effort to match families a "just in case thing" - part of a broader effort to ensure immigrants know their rights and are valued.
"We are very angry that the political structure after so many years cannot come up with a decent solution when they know that the economy of this country is totally dependent on the hard labor of immigrants," Gonzalez said.
"In terms of resources for families, we will take care of it, and the Lord will provide," said Enright. "Always, the Lord... well in the end he does."
In the St. Paul parish, Enright estimates 15 percent of his flock is undocumented, a number that balloons, he says, the further south and west you travel from Pilsen.
The families that would be pressed into service would have to pass church-run background checks. At St. Paul Wednesday night, already about 40 families signed up to take in kids, should it actually come to that.