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Chicago’s immigrants march to save families

Tue, Nov 12, 2013

Getting people excited about keeping families together at Teamster City before the march. Photo: John Kolesa

Getting people excited about keeping families together at Teamster City before the march. Photo: John Kolesa

In July, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Chicago) revealed that 1,200 undocumented immigrants are deported every day. He talked about what immigration reform is about for many here in Chicago and elsewhere: “This is about their children, and the devastating effects that this is having. This is about people dying in the desert every week. This is about women being raped in the fields every day. This is about children being left without their mom and their dad. This is about people losing fingers and hands and eyes and dying because of unscrupulous employers.”

One of the organizers of the March for Immigration Reform in Chicago on October 12 was José Luis Gutiérrez, who has worked more than 22 years as a community organizer and activist. “More than 5,000 children from Mexican parents are living in foster homes because their parents were deported,” he said. “One of the stories that moved me most was when a friend asked me for help to rescue his niece from the state DCFS.”

One of the marchers, Lucrecia Mejia, a former immigrant organizer and former vice president of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, spoke to StreetWise about working alongside immigration issues for more than 10 years. “There are 16-year-old children born here in the United States whose parents have been deported who are working to support younger brothers and sisters…and to bring their parents back.”

Mejia spoke about the choices afforded to illegal immigrants whose children are born here in the United States. They are counseled to arrange for those who would care for their children if they are deported. If they have no one, but their children are legal citizens born in the United States, they are faced with the choice of whether or not to bring the children with them. Yet these are American minors who would live in a foreign country they have never known; coming to the US was a choice they themselves did not make.

“If they choose to leave their children behind in the hopes of a better life for them and have no one to care for them, they are forced to surrender them to DCFS,” Mejia said.

Leaving their American minor children with DCFS creates a greater hardship on taxpayers and destroys families, she said. “That’s why people are marching in protest. Not separating the families is what this is about for most people here today, but there are many other issues regarding injustices in the workplace when employers take advantage of desperate people who are just trying to find a way to fill basic needs.”

One of the community organizers for the march was Yesenia Sanchez, executive director of the West Suburban Action Project (P.A.S.O.). Sanchez summed up the reasons people turned out for the march: “The thousands of people that marched did so because they felt an urgency. Over 100,000 people have been deported since the immigration Senate bill was passed this summer. They know the consequences of a broken immigration system. There were people marching whose father or husband has been deported. Families marched to keep their loved ones together. Children marched to fight for their parents.”

By John Kolesa
StreetWise Contributor

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