JCUA members begin a summer of action for immigration justice

JCUA created our Immigration Justice committee following the presidential election of Donald Trump. Five years later — as the Biden administration begins with a Democratic-controlled Congress — we continue our work with urgency and persistence.

Our committee advances immigration justice through diverse, but interconnected means: we participate in grassroots campaigns to reform immigration policies on the local, state, and federal levels, we do political education about the harmful systems affecting immigrant communities, and we develop relationships of solidarity with immigrant organizations across the city.

This summer, we’re joining our coalition partners in the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) for an Arc of Escalation meant to pressure federal lawmakers to finally providing relief and citizenship to undocumented people. We began by participating in the “We Can’t Wait” rally outside Thompson Center on July 8, where more than 500 people turned out, including a strong showing of more than 40 JCUA members. The rally was organized to demand that:

  • A pathway to “Citizenship for All” be included in the federal budget for the upcoming fiscal year
  • The administration cut ICE and CBP’s budgets, reduce ICE’s arbitrary detention and deportation practices, and invest those funds to citizenship supports and other community investments
  • President Biden and DHS secretary Alejandro Mayorkas narrow the definition of who is a priority for deportation through Prosecutorial Discretion
  • The White House use executive action to provide relief and eliminate the fear of deportation for undocumented people.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, and Rep. Marie Newman were in attendance to publicly commit to support ICIRR’s demands. In addition, personal testimonies were shared by impacted individuals (who are members of other groups within the ICIRR coalition) to demonstrate the necessity of ICIRR’s demands. Miguel Camacho (Access Living) shared his story as an immigrant with a disability who has been living without relief from the Federal Government for 35 years. Bo Thai (HANA) shared his story of immigrating to the United States at the age of 13 as an example of why providing citizenship to DACA recipients is too narrow. And lastly, Cesar Elizarraraz shared his story of living in the Chicagoland Area for over 20 year before being arbitrarily detained by ICE and spending 21 months in detention.

Following the rally, a march was held from the Thompson Center to Federal Plaza as we chanted slogans such as “No More Deportations!” “Citizenship for Who? Citizenship for All?” and “We Can’t Wait!”. Once we reached Federal Plaza, a final performance was held by the HANA Center drummers before we dispersed.

I became involved in JCUA’s immigration committee as I could no longer become a bystander to the unjust immigration system that I was witnessing in this county. I see neighbors that are just as “American” as I am have their backs turned on them time and time again by those with the power to provide them with relief. As I reflect on the impact the rally left on me, there are four thoughts that continue to resonate with me: the power of the personal testimonies, the impact of holding politicians accountable, the strength of the collective effort, and the dedication of the JCUA family.

The personal stories shared at the rally strengthened my connection to the work of JCUA’s immigration committee. I don’t have the lived experience of an undocumented immigrant. I have worked hard to educate myself on the pain and suffering that has been caused by the unjust immigration system. But to hear the personal stories shared, such as Cesar being held in detention, unable to tuck his children into bed for two years, at the hands of ICE hit me on an even deeper level. To hear Cesar thank us in attendance for the support almost felt like a gut punch knowing all the pain and suffering that the system has caused him. After listening to Cesar and the others who shared their story, I came out of the rally with an even deeper motivation to fight for citizenship for all and ending ICE detention once and for all.

I had the privilege of participating in planning calls and lead chants at the rally; this provided me the opportunity to connect with members of other organizations that make up the ICIRR coalition. Interacting with the many other fantastic organizations and meeting some of the great people that make up the organizations energized me as I know that with this great coalition, we have the opportunity to fight for (and win!) sweeping changes to the United States immigration system that hasn’t been seen in generations.

I found great hope in the affirmations provided by Gov. Pritzker, Rep, Schakowsky, and Rep. Newman. I also found hope last week with the news that Democrats included a pathway to citizenship in the most recent budget proposal. But I also know there is more fighting ahead. With the dynamics in Washington and the 2022 midterms fast approaching, there is no time to wait. I will be spending time in the upcoming weeks and months continuing to hold my elected officials accountable by calling my representatives and attending more actions within the ICIRR coalition.

It was great to finally meet many fellow members for the first time in person and to feel the strength of a community that is dedicated to the fight for justice. I found JCUA during the pandemic and have had many great virtual experiences already in my JCUA journey, nothing compared to the high fives, conversations, and chanting that I was able to do with the many JCUA members that attended the rally and march. I look forward to this being the first of many.