PI Original Aricka Flowers Wednesday July 21st, 2010, 3:46pm

Activists Lean On Kirk To Support DREAM Act

Immigration advocates rallied in front of the Illinois Republican Party headquarters today in hopes of getting GOP U.S. Senate nominee Mark Kirk to support the DREAM Act.

More than 20 undocumented immigrant youth were arrested yesterday for their part in staged sit-ins at several congressional offices in Washington, D.C. Nine of the students were from Chicago and two of them, Tania Unzueta and Reyna Wences, were still in custody earlier today.

This morning, immigrant advocates from several organizations, including the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), Latinos Progresando, and the Immigrant Youth Justice League, rallied in front of the downtown offices of the Illinois Republican Party to show their support for the arrested youth. They also delivered a letter to GOP Senate hopeful Mark Kirk urging him to co-sponsor the DREAM Act, a bipartisan bill that would give immigrant youth an avenue to earn citizenship via college or the military.

We talked to ICIRR executive director Josh Hoyt about Sen. Dick Durbin's description of the D.C. protest as "inappropriate" and discussed the broader issue with some of the other rally participants. Watch:

In other immigration reform news, ICIRR has officially launched their "One Nation, One Dream" campaign in response to the controversial Arizona immigration law, SB 1070. More than 200 people gathered at the Arturo Velazquez Institute in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood this past Saturday to help kick off the effort. Both Durbin and Rep. Luis Gutierrez attended the event. Campaign leaders say the politicians used the opportunity to have a meaningful dialogue on the issues surrounding immigration rights and reform.

"We were honored to have both Congressman Gutierrez and Senator Durbin there and in a conversation with our leadership about how to make democracy work for immigrant communities," Hoyt told us. "There's a lot of hurt and anger about the lack of progress on immigration reform, the lack of political courage from Democrats and the increase in the number of deportations under President Obama."

With two Illinois state lawmakers promising to introduce anti-immigration legislation next session and townships voting to make English their official language, Hoyt notes that the need for this latest campaign is obvious. "Our message to the state of Illinois is that immigrants contribute a huge amount to our success as a state and need to be welcomed in our democracy," he said. "Our message to immigrant voters is this: One of the ways you get political respect in a democracy is by exercising your political power. So we need to do that in an enthusiastic way in the coming months."

Mobilizing the community around candidates that support positive immigration reform is the central strategy of the "One Nation, One Dream" campaign. According to Hoyt, it is crucial that supporters of immigration reform send a message to Republicans and Democrats letting them know that there will be electoral ramifications for those who stand in their way.

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