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ICIRR can back up its bragging

Thu, Mar 1, 2012

MEmbers of Sigma Lambda Beta multi-cultural fraternity of UIC, helping at summit

The Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) plans to contact 159,885 voters by next November’s elections, and help register 26,000 new ones.

“It ain’t bragging if you can back it up,” said ICIRR Board member and Center for Community Change Political Director Rudy Lopez at the organization’s 2nd annual Illinois Immigrant Integration Summit February 4 at Malcolm X College. “To our enemies, if you register 5,000 anti-immigration voters, we will register 10,000 more; if you register 10,000, we will register 20,000.”

In the past six years, ICIRR has helped nearly 56,000 immigrant Illinoisans become citizens and its officials say another 340,000 are eligible. More recently, ICIRR advocacy has defeated 17 anti-immigrant bills in the Illinois General Assembly and restored 74 percent of budget cuts to state services for immigrants. Its civil disobedience around FBI/Immigration and Customs fingerprint-sharing geared toward deportation resulted in the promise by Homeland Security to review 300,000 pending cases, with relief to non-criminals, elderly, and students.

Gov. Pat Quinn made a major policy announcement at the summit’s closing rally as he named the members of the Illinois DREAM Commission, which will raise funds for the scholarships. ICIRR was actively involved in promoting the bill’s passage and organized an event at Dominican University in October to train undocumented students on how to apply for funds.

US Rep. Luis Gutierrez poses with adults and kids from Logan Square Neighborhood Association

U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Chicago) pledged to ensure the Obama administration follows through on its promises to change judicial discretionary rules in deportation policies to avoid the breakup of immigrant families due to wholesale deportation. Along those lines, Gutierrez and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Chicago) announced a Family Unity Commission charged with overseeing that the new discretionary procedures are carried out. ICIRR also maintains a hotline (1.855.435.7693) for referrals to legal, social, and workplace services in case of arrest. The Family Unity Commission would also reform visa procedures so that applications could be made in the United States rather than by a costly trip to the home country.

“We will not rest until the government cannot destroy what the community and family have put together,” Gutierrez said.

During the 2nd annual integration summit, the 25-year-old ICIRR announced a five-year strategic plan:
– To become a leader on jobs and the economy by organizing business and labor leaders to make an economic argument for immigration reform. Officials said immigrants are 50 percent more likely to start businesses than non-immigrants. Protection will be sought for low-wage workers and encouragement for economic development and entrepreneurship.
– To develop the next generation of immigrant rights organizers, service providers, political candidates and community leaders through a Training Institute.
– To build bridges between native-born and immigrants through its Uniting America volunteerism program.
– To build a continuum from advocacy to citizenship, to voting, to volunteerism and then candidacy. 327,000 new citizens in the last decade have changed the Illinois electorate, “a demographic tidal wave” that ICIRR wishes to harness.
– To reach beyond Illinois through mentoring and training. Illinois passed its own DREAM Act to provide private college scholarships for undocumented students and training for their high school counselors. Neighboring Wisconsin and Indiana, however, lost in-state tuition.

ICIRR had several important announcements of its own. Josh Hoyt stepped down from his post as ICIRR Executive Director in order to focus on carrying the success Illinois has had in promoting immigrant-friendly policies to the regional level. As Chief Strategic Executive, Hoyt will remain an advisor, but will transition his efforts towards other Midwestern states. He is replaced by Lawrence Benito, who assumed his new duties during the final rally of the conference.

“Our message to the [Obama] administration is you can’t take Latino and immigrant votes for granted,” Benito said in an interview before the summit. “The record number of deportations has been an absolute tragedy in Illinois: 56,258 children have lost a parent to deportation in the last six years.” Despite the immigrant community’s support in 2008, there is no immigration reform pending in Congress, merely executive order changes.

ICIRR would also oppose expansion of the immigrant detention centers such as the one planned for Crete, IL.

Looking toward health care reform in 2014, Benito said he wants “to make sure immigrants are at the table” in setting up exchanges for affordable insurance.

ICIRR is also working on a highway safety program that will require all Illinois motorists to register for drivers’ licenses. Because current law requires a Social Security number to apply for a license, many undocumented immigrants go without because they need to work or to drive kids to school.

“We believe our roads would be safer if they were trained and licensed to drive,” Benito said. “They should be able to get one without a Social Security number. We believe it is an issue important to our community in the absence of immigration reform.”

Written by Suzanne Hanney & Eduardo Salinas
StreetWise Editor-In-Chief & StreetWise Contributor

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