The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) marked Democracy Day with a stakeholder meeting, workshops, trainings and a rally at Benito Juarez High School in Pilsen July 14.
The workshopslead in English, Spanish and Polishexplained the benefits and implementation of President Barack Obama's DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act-related executive order that temporarily halted the measure.
In accordance with the executive order, the Department of Homeland Security will not deport undocumented people who are under 30 years old and came to the United States before age 16; have lived in the United States for at least five years; have clean criminal records; and are in school, are high school graduates or are military veterans. The policy, announced June 15, allows eligible undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses and work permits.
"Our main goal is to protect our youth. We want to give them relief, as well as help their parents. We want to build a movement," said Cindy Agustin, the Uniting America youth civic leadership trainer at ICIRR.
ICIRR estimates 75,000 undocumented youth in Illinois will benefit from the new policy.
"While this [announcement] is great, we have to keep working to get more reform to benefit our entire community," said Arianna Salgado, a member of Immigrant Youth Justice League (IYJL).
Many attendees of the stakeholder meeting cited the executive order as a stepping stone and a move in the right direction, but not the final destination for immigration reform.
"We have so many LGBT multinational couples who are struggling. We're getting closer, but we're not there," said openly lesbian state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, citing a couple she is working with in her district. "She's terrified everyday that her wife will be deported. These are real people with real lives."
Approximately 150 people from various community organizations and universities attended the stakeholder meeting. Several other state representatives were at the meeting, including Lisa Hernandez, Greg Harris and Daniel Biss. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, Congressman Mike Quigley and Congresswoman Jan Shakowsky sent staff members on their behalf.
"I want to be sure LGBT immigrants are as welcome in this country as all immigrants," said Harris.
At the meeting, ICIRR representatives unveiled plans to assist undocumented immigrants with grassroots outreach sessions similar to the ones they hosted for Democracy Day, as well as voter registration drives and canvassing.
"For the last year, our organization [ICIRR] has been trying to build bridges between the immigrant community and the LGBT community," said Joshua Hoyt, chief strategy executive for ICIRR. "There's parts of our constituency that will never support issues within the LGBT community … but I see parallels and we need to seek strength within each other."
Several community members shared their stories at the stakeholder meeting including Reyna Wences, an undocumented immigrant and self-identified queer youth who attempted suicide two days after graduating from high school. Because she is not a U.S. citizen, she was unable to accept scholarships offered to her by colleges.
"A lot of doors were closing on me," said Wences. "I think I lost all hope. All I was thinking that night was a funeral would be cheaper than college."
After a brief hospitalization, Wences sought out allies, eventually joining IYJL. But at the same time as coming out as undocumented, Wences was also coming out as queer.
"There are undocumented people who are queer and gay and lesbian and trans that aren't talked about," said Wences. "People like us who are at an intersection are likely to suffer from different things. We're not just one identity."
Several members of both the LGBT community and the immigrant community touted a need for collaboration between the groups.
"I would like to ask my LGBTQ brothers and sisters for their support, for people may not be so involved with immigrant issues to get involved," said Wences. "We all have different identities. We're all over the map."
"We're present here and we're part of the dialogue," said Julio Rodriquez, board president of the Association of Latino Men for Action and chair of the LGBT Immigrant Rights Coalition. "LGBT people are no longer invisible in the immigrant-rights movement. We're not only visible as allies, but our issues are part of the discussion.
"We're here, we're queer, we're immigrants."