Archive for the ‘Immigration’ Category

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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August 23, 2011

The Honorable Tom Cross, House Minority Leader

The Honorable Kay Hatcher, State Representative

The Honorable Pam Roth, State Representative

The Honorable Randy Hultgren, U.S. Congressman

The Honorable Dennis Hastert, Former Speaker of the U.S. House

Ken Toftoy, Chairman of the Kendall County Republican Party


The Honorable Christine Radogno, Senate Minority Leader

The Honorable Pat Brady, State Republican Chairman

Dear Honorable Elected Officials, Candidates and Party Chairmen:

We recently became aware of the Kendall County Republican Party Picnic scheduled to occur on August 27, 2011, which we understand will include the participation of numerous Illinois elected officials and party leaders.  According to the event’s website, https://sites.google.com/site/kendallcountyrepublicans/home/family-picnic, the featured speaker for the event is Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County.

As you may know, Sheriff Arpaio has a long history of constitutional violations, corruption, and racial discrimination. We believe that as present and future leaders of Illinois, you would agree that the welfare of all of our state’s residents must be protected, regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation, country of origin, or immigration status – and that the U.S. Constitution should be a sacred text.  We must not let ourselves be divided by hatred and extremism and for the sake of our nation we must all stand together and SAY NO TO HATE.

Below are a sample of Sheriff Arpaio’s most egregious attacks on the Constitution and human dignity:

  • Sheriff Joe Arpaio has a well-documented policy of racial discrimination and racial profiling of Latinos.  An independent 2008 study showed an active bias in his department, [1] which was subject to 2700 discrimination lawsuits between 2004 and 2007 alone – 50 times the number of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston combined.[2]
  • Sheriff Arpaio has famously required his inmates to wear pink underwear and pink jumpsuits – he sells copies of these products for his private gain.[3][4]
  • Sheriff Arpaio has faced a raft of election law violations[5], misuse of funds allegations[6], and abuse of power charges, some of which have come with penalties and fines – including a $153,978 fine to his election campaign in 2010 for misusing funds.
  • In 2008 and 2010, U.S. District Court Judge Neil V. Wake ruled that Sheriff Arpaio’s jails violated the constitutional rights of inmates, by failing to provide basic medical care and food.  From one report: “Arpaio routinely abused pre-trial detainees… by feeding them… contaminated food, housing them in cells so hot as to endanger their health, denying them care for serious medical and mental health needs, and keeping them packed as tightly as sardines.”[7][8][9]
  • From 2009 to 2011, Sheriff Arpaio refused to cooperate with the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division on their investigation of discrimination and unconstitutional searches and seizures.[10]
  • Arpaio faced a federal discrimination lawsuit in 2009 for firing a Muslim employee who refused to shave his beard for religious reasons.[11]

There is no room for the Sheriff’s anti-immigrant, anti-Latino, and anti-Muslim actions in Illinois – one of the most diverse states in the union.  As civil rights, Latino, immigrant, and faith organizations, we call upon you to stand with us against the unconstitutional tactics of Sheriff Arpaio in two ways:

1)    We ask the organizers to withdraw their invitation of Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

2)    And we ask those who have been invited to attend, to decline and refuse to endorse the Sheriff’s record.

The Kendall County GOP website states that “Our country was founded, and continues to be based, upon the belief that freedom resides deep within every human heart.  As exemplified by the first Republican President Abraham Lincoln, the ideas that every person matters, that each individual is due dignity and the opportunity to take personal responsibility, has been at the center of our society.”  We could not agree more.  Sheriff Joe Arpaio has spent his career undermining these Lincolnian values.

The Tri-Count-Teas site also states, this event “isn’t a ‘Republican’ or ‘Democrat’ event – it’s an American event,” and so we urge you to please help all Americans feel welcome at your event.


Rev. C.J. Hawking, Executive Director, Arise Chicago

Joshua Hoyt, Executive Director, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights

Jane Ramsey, Executive Director, Jewish Council on Urban Affairs

Fr. Brendan Curran O.P., Pastor, St Pius V Catholic Church; Priests for Justice for Immigrants

Tuyet Le, Executive Director, Asian American Institute

Hatem Abudayyeh, Executive Director, Arab American Action Network

Maria Pesqueira, President & CEO, Mujeres Latinas en Accion

Rev. Lois McCullen Parr, Pastor, Broadway United Methodist Church

Ahlam Jbara, Associate Director, Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago

Monika Tietz, Chair of the Board of Directors, Polish Initiative of Chicago

Rev. George Wadleigh, Pastor, Christian Science Church

Tom Balanoff, President, Service Employees International Union Local 1

Rev. Audrey deCoursey, Associate Pastor, Highland Avenu Church of the Brethren

Mary Shesgreen, Steering Committee, Fox Valley Citizens for Peace & Justice

John Laesch, Steering Committee, Northern Illinois Jobs With Justice

Ron Maydon, Chicago Metro Charter President, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement

Mireya D. Luna, Program Coordinator, Family Focus

Ron Powell, President, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 881

Jim Robinson, Director, United Steel Workers District 7

Jennifer Arwade, Executive Director, Albany Park Neighborhood Council

Carl Rosen, President, United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America, Western Region

Dr. Vince Gaddis, Executive Director, Youth Believing in Change

Michelle Young, President, Action Now

Corey Johnson, Secretary-Treasurer, Laborers Local 149

Abraham Mwaura, Executive Director, Warehouse Workers for Justice

Rev. Jean Siegfried Darling, Minister, The People’s Church of Chicago

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By: Shelly Ruzicka

Yesterday undocumented youth in Chicago led hundreds of families, allies, and religious supporters in a large demonstration protesting the Department of Homeland Security’s “Secure Communities” program, or S-Comm.  Hearings have recently been held across the country after ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Director John Morton stated that the program would be mandatory. 

Not long ago, Illinois joined other states to opt-out of the voluntary program which required local police to fingerprint anyone they stopped and send that information to ICE. Shortly after Governor Quinn signed the bill opting out of S-Comm into law, Morton stated that the program would no longer be voluntary but mandatory, thereby negating the will of states to abandon the program which many say lead to racial profiling and distrust of police.  Communities and county sheriffs have stated that “Secure Communities” has led to a greater disconnect between police and immigrant communities.  People who witness crimes are afraid to go to police out of fear they may be questioned, fingerprinted, and deported.  Women don’t report domestic violence for the same reason.  Workers are afraid to drive to their jobs or to pick up their children from school out of fear of being pulled over for a busted tail light or a cop who has been compelled to target “foreign” looking drivers.

Because of this fear created in communities, 150 organizations representing thousands upon thousands of individuals, have called for the immediate end to the “Secure Communities” program.  Many believe the recent hearings have been an attempt to win over more supporters for the program.  But communities from L.A. to Chicago have responded by saying that officials should not need to hear more stories, but should instead act on the knowledge they already have and immediately end the program.

At yesterday’s hearing, after other testimony was given, Alla, an undocumented young woman took the microphone and announced that she and five other undocumented youth could not in good conscience stay at the hearing, and asked the community members present to follow them out of the building.  They then proceeded to block traffic, risking arrest to demonstrate that by having a minor misdemeanor on their recored, under “Secure Communities” they could risk deportation.

Watch the walk-out and the following civil disobedience here:


After actions in several cities, such as this one in Chicago, the Obama Administration just announced a halt on deportations for non-criminal immigrants. While it does not provide a direct pathway to citizenship it will allow the granting of work permits. This is the most major reaction from the administration yet. While some are skeptical of whether this action will be meaningful, others are claiming it as a major victory.  Considering no other such declarations of halting deportations has been taken thus far, it is indeed a victory to be celebrated. But of course the struggle continues to make sure the new plan is implemented.  So celebrate, yes, but stay vigilant.


-Shelly is Director of Operations at Arise Chicago

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By Micah Uetricht

Arise Chicago joined the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and other immigrant rights activists at a protest in front of the Chicago offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the South Loop yesterday to call on ICE Director John Morton to meet with families that have been torn apart by deportations.

Morton, who was in town to discuss what ICE claims are significant reforms to the immigration enforcement program Secure Communities (national immigrant rights activists disagree) , met with some representatives of ICIRR, but refused to meet with families whose lives are affected by those enforcement programs. (For an explanation of Secure Communities, or S-Comm, see here.)

Gov. Pat Quinn pulled Illinois out of S-Comm earlier this year, saying “ICE’s ongoing implementation of Secure Communities is flawed.” (Other states have taken similar measures to attempt to opt out of the program, though those efforts remain tied up in lawsuits.) Quinn’s decision was undoubtedly influenced by the revelation by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, who filed a number of Freedom of Information Act requests on Secure Communities, that ICE had conspired to force Chicago and Cook County to participate in the program by pressuring Chicago’s former Mayor Richard M. Daley and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and implementing S-Comm in every county surrounding Cook. Rather than forcing participation of our recalcitrant county, ICE simply looked like a bully caught in the act; Quinn’s opt-out announcement came soon afterwards.

Outside ICE, ICIRR staff and the gathered protesters were not happy with Morton’s decision not to meet with families whose lives have been shattered by deportation–although his decision is understandable. Punitive and restrictive immigration policy is easy to discuss when it remains in the abstract, when visas and quotas and enforcement programs are thought of as simply sound public policy.

But when the impact of programs like S-Comm or the Obama administration’s general ramping up of deportations (President Obama has actually deported more immigrants than President Bush) is considered in light of how those policies devastate families–real, flesh-and-blood parents and children and relatives whose lives are shattered in the wake of detention and deportation–those programs that looked so sound on paper become considerably more difficult to justify.
It’s understandable, then, that John Morton didn’t want to meet with the families who have borne the brunt of his agency’s deportation-happy policies. It’s much easier to continue justifying those policies when you don’t have to think about the real people who are hurt by them.

The protest was a boisterous one, attended by members of various immigrant rights, community, and labor groups. See below for photos from the action.

– Micah is a Midwest Academy Organizing Intern at Arise Chicago

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Earlier this year, Deportation Nation produced a handy inforgraphic explaining Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s deportation program Secure Communities, or S-Comm. Check it out below.

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By: Shelly Ruzicka

The “Legal Workforce Act” being introduced by House Republicans led by Reps. Lamar Smith (R-TX), Elton Gallegly (R-CA), and Steve King (R-IA), is at worst, a direct attack on immigrant workers which will actually negatively impact millions of working people across the country, including mostly authorized workers.  At best it is almost comical in its irony and hypocrisy.  At a time when Republicans are crying foul on any federal spending and are pleading for smaller government, this Republican proposal will actually cost the federal government billions to implement and billions more in lost tax revenue.

Considering the current climate of supposed major concern over the deficit, such a proposal should be viewed as shocking and downright incompetent.  What happened to Republicans clamoring to cut down the size of government?  Apparently, when it comes to immigrants, they are ready to spend, spend, spend!

Several groups, including the non-partisan National Immigrant Law Center have provided studies and reports showing the negative impact on all workers in the U.S. were such a system put into place.  They recently issued a summary of their concerns.

In short, some of the biggest issues are the following:

Loss of billions in tax revenue amidst an ongoing economic crisis.

  • The Congressional Budget Office estimated that enforcing an e-verify system would cost the public approximately $17 billion in lost tax revenue over a ten year period due to undocumented workers leaving the tax system and being paid under the table by employers.
  • Additionally, just implementing the program could cost upwards of $23 billion over the next 10 years.

Hundreds of thousands of authorized workers (aka citizens and legal residents) will lose or risk losing their jobs due to a 50% error rate in the system.

Millions of workers, including mostly those who are authorized, will be forced into government bureaucracy and paperwork hell in order to try and save their jobs (with no guarantee of doing so)

  • If E-Verify is required at a federal level, approximately 1.2 million U.S. citizens and work-authorized immigrants would have to contact SSA or DHS or risk losing their jobs.
  • A NILC study found that even the Government Accountability Office recognized this problem, calling any attempt to fix an e-verify error “formidable.”

Millions of people authorized to work will be prevented from gaining employment due to errors that claim they are not authorized

  • Because the proposed bill would require employers to pre-screen applicants, and because of the high error rate in the system, millions of people seeking  employment might not get hired, or would be prevented from receiving a first paycheck.

Considering there are millions of people in the U.S. without jobs, and considering that a majority of the public supports comprehensive immigration reform, the best way to help solve the current crisis and to avoid all the unnecessary headaches the above bill would cause, is two-fold:

Arise Chicago Worker Center members protesting CFOs visiting Chicago

1. Create more jobs by holding corporations accountable, including requiring them to pay their fair share in taxes (versus low to zero tax payment)

2. Enact comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship so that all workers are on a level playing field, driving wages up rather than down, and including more workers in the tax system.

These two tasks will increase tax revenue to help the country out of our economic recession, create jobs, and increase quality of life for all people living in the U.S.

Arise Chicago is part of a broad coalition of local, state, and national organizations concerned about the proposed “Legal Workforce Act”.    If you are troubled by the negative impact on all workers contact your Representatives in the House expressing your concerns.

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Recently Arise Chicago Worker Center Organizer Jacob Lesniewski spoke about the rights of immigrant workers on

Jacob with Arise interns and staff at a rally protesting Arizona's SB 1070 anti-immigrant bill

Chicago Public Radio’s Worldview Show.  Listen to the full episode here.

Today we’ll reflect on May Day issues with a conversation rooted in the rights of migrant workers who cross our southern border.

Jacob Lesniewski is a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. His research focuses on improving work conditions for immigrant and other low-wage workers. He’s also an organizer for the group Arise Chicago, an Interfaith group focused on worker issues. And Oscar Chacon is Executive Director of the National Alliance of Latin American & Caribbean Communities knows as (NALACC). Oscar’s dedicated to the pursuit of social and economic justice across borders, for migrant communities. Both participated last month in a conference at the University of Chicago titled, “Migrant Rights in an Era of Globalization: The Mexico-U.S. Case.”

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