Quick Hit Ashlee Rezin Tuesday August 6th, 2013, 5:31pm

Attempts To Deport Nine DREAMers Gets Spotlight As Grassroots Immigration Reform Efforts Surge On

Nicho Gonzalez said he is confident his undocumented friend Lulu Martinez, who is without a criminal record, will soon be released from the Arizona immigrant detention center at which she has been held since June.

Her “unwarranted” detention, he said, will send the message to all of America’s undocumented immigrants that “it’s time to stand up and let our voices be heard.”

“We need to talk about deportations,” Gonzalez, 26, said. “We’ve been talking about this immigration reform legislation, but nothing is being done to stop the deportations or bring back the 1.2 million deportees.”
Martinez is one of nine individuals, five women and four men, who have been detained at Eloy Detention Center in Arizona since they tried to cross the border from Mexico into the U.S. on July 22. The group of detainees, known as the DREAM 9, were all brought illegally into the U.S. as young children and boldly tried to cross the border and back last month to protest the nation’s broken immigration system and draw attention to the need for reform.

"She knew she was risking it all," Gonzalez said. "But she is creating change right now, she is starting the conversation of real immigration reform and real change."

Gonzalez said the protest, organized by the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), of which he and Martinez are both members, was designed to shed light on the rate in which the Obama administration is deporting undocumented immigrants, despite pending immigration reform legislation.

Martinez, 23, who has been put in solitary confinement and, according to Gonzalez, is shackled every time she leaves her cell, migrated to Chicago when she was only three years-old. She was notified only weeks before she flew to Mexico in protest that she could have stayed lawfully in the U.S. temporarily under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which grants a two-year deferral of deportation for undocumented immigrants who came to the states at a young age.

But Gonzalez, who is living with Martinez’s mom while she is detained, said DACA “is not enough.”

Martinez and six other members of the DREAM 9 — named after the DREAM Act, a bill aimed at providing most young undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship — were notified Monday that their petitions for U.S. asylum would be considered by a judge. Gonzalez said that could happen anywhere between five days and five months from now.

“This is about empowerment, and it’s about not giving up,” he said, adding that he is also undocumented and has lived in Chicago for more than 20 years. “We are undocumented and unafraid. We will no longer live in the shadows and we are looking toward a day that our people will no longer live in fear."

More than 400,000 people were deported in fiscal year 2012, which is a record high for the nation. That amounts to more than 1,100 deportations of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. each day.

“We have a dysfunctional system where people who are eligible to apply for citizenship are waiting up to 23 years for their chance to apply for a VISA,” said Fred Tsao, policy director for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR). “Most of these are people who are merely trying to make a living in the United States, support their families, and many have U.S. citizen children ... But we also have labor shortages in various sectors of our economy, including agriculture and construction, so this immigration system isn’t working for anybody. It needs to be fixed.”

Passed
out of the Senate in June, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act Of 2013, S. 744, was drafted by a bipartisan group of senators, including U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL). The proposal attempts to create a streamlined path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

But the bill, which calls for a 5- to 10-year wait before an undocumented immigrant can apply for citizenship, faces an uncertain future in the GOP-led U.S. House of Representatives.

Tsao said there “is some likelihood” the House could pass some version of immigration reform, especially considering that the lower chamber has been working on a piecemeal legislative package for several months.

“We can’t take that for granted, though,” he said. “We need to continue to do the work that we need to do to keep pressure on House leadership and make sure the issues keep moving during the summer and into the fall.”

While the House is in recess and won’t return until September, the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition (IBIC) has launched the "Illinois' Road To Recovery" August recess campaign. Through a series of events coordinated throughout the state with participation from community stakeholders, high- and low-skilled workers, large corporations and small businesses, IBIC plans to press legislators about the need for immigration reform.

IBIC is partnering with the Great Lakes Region - U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Bibles, Badges & Business For Immigration Reform for the campaign, which kicks off Wednesday in Bloomington, IL.

“Immigration reform is no longer just a moral issue, it’s no longer just a family issue, it’s really an economic issue,” said Raul Raymundo, co-chair of IBIC and CEO of the The Resurrection Project. “CEOs from the likes of Caterpillar, to local business entrepreneurs, are promoting the [Senate] bill because it will benefit our economy on all levels.”

Our nation’s budget deficit, which reached $1.1 trillion in 2012, could be reduced by $450 billion if the Senate’s immigration reform legislation was passed, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Additionally, the nation’s undocumented immigrants contributed $10.6 billion in state and local taxes in 2010, according to a new study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP). If given the chance to secure legal permanent residency, America’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants would likely pay even more in taxes every year to state and local governments, the study concludes.

In Illinois, undocumented immigrants contributed more than $5.6 million in state and local taxes in 2010, ITEP reports. If the Senate bill passed into law, those tax contributions could increase by nearly $1.5 billion, the study found.

“We can’t underestimate the growth,” said Raymundo. “The economy is going to be strengthened by immigration reform on all levels. For example, at the high-skill level, if we could have immigration reform for a foreigner, who studies here in this country and can get an advanced degree, he or she ought to be on a path to legalization immediately and that doesn’t happen right now.”

On Monday, immigration reform activists attempted to apply pressure on U.S. Reps. Aaron Schock (R, IL-18) and Rodney Davis (R, IL-13) during a Springfield rally that drew roughly 50 protesters to the state Capitol.

“Both sides agree that (the current immigration system) is broken, so let’s come together and fix it,” Scott Cross, Springfield chapter leader for Organizing for Action-Illinois, which organized the protest, told the State Journal-Register. “Neither side is going to get all they want, but the time is now. The Senate passed it, so we really want to push Speaker Boehner to pick it up.”

The demonstration brought protesters to the steps of Schock’s Springfield office. The congressman’s spokesman, Steve Dutton, told the newspaper that Schock supports immigration reform and the House “is currently working on legislative solutions that we expect could be voted on as early as this fall.”

Meanwhile, Gonzalez said immigration reform advocates need to continue to stress the importance of passing comprehensive legislation.

“We’re tired of the debate,” he said. “We’re tired of them sitting around discussing our future.”

He said NIYA, and other advocacy groups, would continue to call on lawmakers and hold them accountable for their decisions regarding immigration reform.

“We can no longer say we can’t do anything,” he said. “It’s time for the community to wake up and open their eyes and see that once we unite, we can see a brighter future.”

Bottom two images: Courtesy of ICIRR

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