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Arisers with Rep. Luis Gutierrez

On June 18, Arise Chicago joined fellow member organizations of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights to celebrate President Obama’s recent announcement to suspend the deportation of and offer work permits to “Dreamers,” the youth who came to the U.S. as children, have led honest lives, and who dream of going to school and contributing to American society.

Arise Chicago’s summer interns–one an immigrant herself, the other two the children of immigrants–are college students who are exploring their own dreams.  They attended the press conference at ICIRR to celebrate the activism of their peers like those who are a part of the Immigrant Youth Justice League that contributed to the President’s decision.  Below are their reflections.

Honoring Struggle: Evelyn Nuñez

A group of DREAMers stood on the stage, showing the world the faces of those who would be affected by Obama’s recent executive decision. I have been to the undocumented and unafraid rallies. I’ve watched these students on TV as they’ve banded together to show America that they are here and will not stop rallying and protesting until they are recognized.

In yesterday’s press conference, Congressman Luis Gutierrez stood by these individuals as they celebrated the recognition that finally came. Obama’s executive decision is not complete, but it is a step in the right direction.

I am not an undocumented student, but I nonetheless understand the importance of this moment. My parents came here without papers searching for the American dream that would lift their families in Mexico from poverty and give them the opportunity to provide a better future for their children. I can understand the stories of the DREAMers as I, like them, simply want to take advantage of all the opportunities our parents fought so hard to give us. One of the few things that distinguished our experiences is a nine-digit number I was given because I happened to be born here. Apart from this small technicality, many of the undocumented students have, like me, grown up learning the traditions of their parent’s culture but also adopting the customs of America into their origin because undeniably, America is part of their origin now too. That nine-digit number has prevented many from pursuing the education or job they always intended to find.

In the last few years of high school, I watched with frustration as a few of my close friends struggled with the college process. I knew the potential that was brewing inside, but their dream to attend a top-notch college to pursue a career in medicine, political science, or biology became nothing more than that, a beautiful dream.

That is, until now.

When I heard the announcement, I immediately thought of one of my best friends who can now actually fulfill her dream of becoming a teacher. I’ve listened to her speak passionately about wanting to become a special education teacher and help autistic children. Now she can actually do those things, and I think that this announcement has come a light of hope for both of us. For her it has restored hope in her future, and for me it has restored hope in this country.

- Evelyn is a student at Yale University and an intern at Arise Chicago

Political Dreams: Michelle Villegas

My family came to this country, in search of the American dream, when I was 2 years old. For 17 years I have spoken English, adopted American history as my own, and grew up living in community with American children. My whole life, I’ve felt distinctly American and yet I am a DREAMer, an undocumented student. I am a young woman, whose aspirations of a Law degree and a political career currently fall short by nine numbers, which would officially decree me American.

For a long time, I lived in fear; fear of being permanently sent back to a country I felt little attachment to and fear of what my peers and friends would think of me if they knew the truth.  These fears are still very real and prevalent in my life, but now I know that this great country that I call home is on my side. I am one huge step closer to living completely unafraid. On Monday, I found strength and hope in the great words of support and solidarity spoken by Congressman Luis Gutierrez who has been fighting on our behalf since 2001 and the group of undocumented students from immigrant youth justice league, who came to the press conference in t-shirts that read, “Undocumented. Unafraid.”

Congressman Gutierrez’s message was clear: “This is a great victory, but we will not rest until there is justice for all immigrants in this country.”  His passion and dedication to this cause are not only admirable but also inspiring. His support for the leadership of the brave DREAMers who spoke at the press conference have moved me to step out of my fear. As I looked around the press conference on Monday, there was a buzz of excitement coming from DREAMers and non-DREAMers alike and I realized that together, we could win this battle.

When the press conference was over, I had a brief moment to speak with Congressman Gutierrez. I shared with him my aspirations of following in his political footsteps and he smiled, wrapped me in a tight side hug and replied, “Don’t give up. Soon you’ll be an American Citizen and I’ll be voting for you”.  I know he will be voting for me someday, in the mean time I hope to be able to vote for him in his next election.

- Michelle is a student at Creighton University and an intern at Arise Chicago

Faces of Joy: Hamid Bendaas

Both of my parents are immigrants. My mother came here from Iran, my father from Algeria. But I’ve never felt that I was part of the struggle for immigrant rights. I was born here and have lived here my entire life; I feel comfortable in this country and public society, and if I ever leave it will be entirely by my own choosing.

But on Monday, I got to see the faces of those who do not share in those privileges. Young men and women, who speak English as well as I do, work much harder than I do, and embrace and defend democratic values as much as any American public figure, but who were for their whole lives never embraced nor defended by those same public figures.

On Monday, I got to see their faces.  While some were splashed with tears and others flushed red and smiling, nothing could hide the emotion that was underlying all their expressions: joy.

Congressman Gutierrez said it best: the past years had been marred by struggle and injustice, the next 60 days would be about process and oversight, soon enough it would be about politics, and the upcoming years would be about continuing to fight until the mission was complete.  But that day, Monday, was about happiness and the young people here and across the nation that day who had finally heard good news. And they shouldn’t be rejoicing alone.  I was not part of their struggle, but even so, at that press conference, I was happy, too: happy that they were happy, happy that I lived in a place where sometimes the right thing does happen and it’s celebrated, happy that they’d received some of the rights that they shouldn’t have had to struggle for, but did anyway. And I was happy, weird as it sounds, to be part of this species—to be able to look onto an undocumented young man from Mexico or an undocumented young woman from Afghanistan and be able to know, by looking at their faces, what they were feeling at that moment. I hope for these young people and their families that the future brings more smiles and tears, whichever way joy spells itself on their faces.

- Hamid is a student at the University of Chicago and an intern at Arise Chicago

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