Illinois' immigrant rights activists are keeping the pressure on Congress and the White House to quickly take up comprehensive reforms, and it appears that they're making inroads.
As they struggle to find their place in local universities and workplaces, Illinois' undocumented youth are finding their voices. Yesterday, they used them to put Sen. Dick Durbin on the spot, paying a visit to his Chicago office to urge him and President Obama to pass immigration reform this year. "Have courage," said organizer Hugo Esparza-Perez of the Immigrant Youth Justice League (IYJL) at the rally. "The time is now. Take the lead." Watch:
In a bold display, Esparza-Perez and a handful of fellow-undocumented youth decided to come out of the shadows and, in doing so, potentially risk deportation. The protestors shared their stories of immigrating to the United States as young children and growing up American, only to find that they had no legal standing when they went to apply for college and jobs. "I don't have the power to lobby. What we have is our stories," IYJL's Tania Unzueta told us. "It's all about making people realize we're part of this society. We're in the schools, we're working, we're in the streets among you."
As 18-year-old IYJL activist Reyna Wences told us last month, the political reality is that if lawmakers fail to act this year, "it's going to be a long time before we have another chance." In response, advocates from across the country have set March 21 as the de facto deadline for the White House and Congress to commit to fixing the nation's broken immigration laws quickly. A host of immigrant rights activists from Illinois are calling the deadline "showdown time" and they plan to mark the occasion by leading a delegation to the national March for America demonstration in D.C., which will target Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill.
As a gesture of support, a team of Chicago aldermen introduced a resolution in City Council yesterday backing the action. In advance, Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th Ward) sent a powerful message to Durbin and the White House. "What we have seen by President Barack Obama and Sen. Durbin is a betrayal," he said. "We demand they do the right thing." Watch:
Encouragingly, the display of political pressure appears to be pushing the issue forward on Capitol Hill. Today, Josh Hoyt of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) -- along with fellow advocates, labor unions, and clergy -- will attend a meeting at the White House in an effort to shape forthcoming legislation. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) hinted that they're getting close to introducing a related bill in the upper chamber. The hold-up, it appears, is finding GOP support for the measure.
In the meantime, Wences tells us, "We feel like we're fighting for our lives."