PI Original Ashlee Rezin Friday May 10th, 2013, 6:22pm

Women Speak Out On CPS School Closings & Immigration Reform As Mother's Day Weekend Begins (VIDEO)

Including the voice of women, and particularly mothers, in pending issues across the city, state, and country is increasingly important, according to several organizations which saw the start of Mother’s Day weekend as an opportunity to advocate for their causes.

Including the voice of women, and particularly mothers, in pending issues across the city, state, and country is increasingly important, according to several organizations which saw the start of Mother’s Day weekend as an opportunity to advocate for their causes.

The Chicago Foundation for Women on Friday joined together female stakeholders from across the city for a Mother’s Day breakfast intended to mobilize women on the issue of comprehensive immigration reform.

Meanwhile, SEIU* Local 1 brought together mothers affected by proposed school actions by the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), to call on CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett to put a stop to school closures across the district.

Preserve The Rights Of Women And Families During Immigration Reform

Kicking off the "Keeping Families Together: Women for Compassionate Immigration Reform" campaign, a group of approximately 75 women came together Friday morning to consider their role and make a commitment to the movement. The Chicago-based movement was pulled together to achieve the goal of making the voices of women heard during the immigration reform process.

“We need to have women’s voices heard as we make sure that we have a good (immigration reform) bill,” said Maria Pesqueira, president and CEO of Mujeres Latinas en Accion, which helped organize Friday’s Mother’s Day breakfast.

Mujeres Latinas en Accion partnered with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), the Women’s Business Development Center, Women Employed and the Chicago Foundation for Women to launch the Women for Compassionate Immigration Reform campaign at Friday’s Mother’s Day breakfast. The campaign is still in preliminary phases.

Last month, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators, known as the “Gang of Eight”, unveiled a compromise bill that attempts to provide a streamlined path to citizenship for America’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Pesqueira was quick to note that the Gang of Eight, which includes U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), does not include a female congressman.  

“This is indeed a women’s issue for equality,” she said.

The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, S 744, creates a path to citizenship by way of a 13-year process for most undocumented immigrants. Those who meet certain criteria, such as residing in the U.S. before December 31, 2011, would be eligible to apply for a green card after a 10-year wait. Applicants would then be able to apply for U.S. citizenship after an additional three-year wait, provided that they pay $2,000 in fines and meet certain requirements such as permanent employment and a background check.

Agricultural workers and younger undocumented immigrants, namely those individuals who came to America before turning 16, would be eligible to apply for a green card within five years.

The bill is reliant on the federal government passing several border security provisions throughout a 10-year time period, for which the bill appropriates $4.5 billion.

Markup of the legislation began Thursday in the Senate Judiciary Committee, kicking off the beginning a legislative process Durbin referred to as a “long uphill struggle.”

“We need comprehensive immigration reform that strengthens our borders and our economy, keeps families together, and creates a tough, but fair roadmap to citizenship that allows aspiring citizens to contribute to our great nation,” U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D, IL-8) said in a statement. Duckworth endorsed the Women for Compassionate Immigration Reform campaign.

Rosa Gonzales, a member of the Resurrection Project, said, as an undocumented immigrant and single mother of two children, ages 10 and 12, she lives in constant fear of deportation as a result of her status.

“Just like me, many women out there need (immigration reform) ... I couldn’t imagine being separated from my children,” she said. “It’s scary just to think about.

As of 2011, 51 percent of immigrants in the U.S. were women, according to a recent study by the Pew Hispanic Center.

That same year, there were more than 500,000 undocumented immigrants in Illinois, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

The U.S. deported a record amount of undocumented immigrants in 2012. Up 3 percent from 2011, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reports that 409,849 people were deported last year.

“I’m screaming [that] we need this reform,” Gonzales said.

In 2011, 5,100 children were in foster care because both parents were deported, according to the Applied Research Center. The organization projects that number to reach 15,000 by 2016. 

“Immigrant women can be one of the most vulnerable populations in the country, but they should not be forced to stay silent because of their immigration status,” U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D, IL-9) said in a statement. “They should be treated with equality, respect and have access to safety and protections that enable them to take care of themselves and their children.”

In addition to Duckworth and Schakowsky, endorsers of the Women for Compassionate Immigration Reform campaign include U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D, IL-2), Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka (R), State Sen. Christine Radogno (R-Lemont), State Reps. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook) and Cynthia Soto (D-Chicago), Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer, and Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown.

“Women represent the glue that holds families together, so we need to make sure we are compassionate of the fact that women are the foundation of families,” said Brown in an interview with Progress Illinois. “Women play the biggest role in raising children.”

Anne Ladky, executive director of Women Employed, called for undocumented women to “come out of the shadows.”

“Undocumented women are in the margins, they’re in the shadows, that means domestic violence, sexual assault, exploitation at work and other crimes against them are just not going to be resolved unless we can provide them the ability to exercise their full rights,” she said.

Ladky was one of several speakers at the Mother’s Day breakfast that encouraged the event's attendees to call legislators and urge them to provide mothers with a more streamlined path to citizenship.

“We have to stop this process of deporting parents and leaving children here,” she said.

Proposed School Closures Especially Damaging For Mothers

“From one mother to another, I’m here to ask Barbara Byrd-Bennett to stop this plan to close our schools,” said Lourdes Gonzalez, a single mother of four and custodian at Roberto Clemente Community Academy.

A proposal by CPS officials to close 54 schools, consolidate 11 and turnaround another six across the district has Gonzalez uneasy about the future of her job. Although her school was not included in the proposal, she said a shake-up in CPS could force hundreds of layoffs across the city and push employees with less seniority out.

Gonzalez is concerned her five years of experience is not enough.

“My children depend on me,” she said, adding she wakes up at 6:30 a.m. every day to get her children ready for school, works from 3 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., then after making lunches for the next day and doing home maintenance, is able to go to sleep every night around 2 a.m.

Gonzalez’s children, ages 17, 8, seven and four, have all been spared from having their schools included on closure list, but she said she doesn’t know what she will do if she loses her job.

“It’s going to be really, really hard,” she said. “I want Barbara Byrd-Bennett to really think about what she’s doing; I’m the backbone of my house, what am I going to do if I lose my job?”

Gonzalez was one of approximately 20 SEIU members to deliver a Mother’s Day card and approximately 4,000 postcards to CPS headquarters Friday. The messages pleaded with the district’s CEO, asking her not to move forward with proposed school closings. According to her biography on CPS’ website, Byrd-Bennett is both a mother and a grandmother.

The Mother’s Day card included notes and messages from some of the estimated 30,000 students affected by the proposed school actions.

The postcards, saying “please do not close our neighborhood public schools”, were written from students, parents and teachers campaigning against the plan to close, consolidate and turnaround a total of 61 Chicago public schools.

Of the 2,400 SEIU custodians and lunchroom managers working in the CPS school district, approximately 300 may lose their jobs as a result of the district’s attempt to contend with a reported $1 billion deficit.

CPS is also attributing this wave of proposed school actions to a “utilization crisis” of more than 100,000 empty seats. According to officials, the plan will save the district more than $400 million.

The Chicago Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the proposed school actions May 22.

“We have so many members that are both mothers of students whose schools may close, but who also work in schools that may close, and right now with the economy so low and the crime rate so high, people are scared,” said Laura Garza, secretary treasurer of SEIU Local 1.

“Today (the weekend of Mother’s Day) is the perfect day to bring this issue to light,” she said. “Can you imagine the stress these mothers are under?”

Garza asked to deliver the Mother’s Day card to Byrd-Bennett directly, but instead was forced to leave it with Reginald Williams, the deputy of central office resources for the Office of School Safety and Security.

“CPS parents and workers believe that our neighborhood public schools are community anchors for our city,” said Lonnell Saffold, director of institutional services for SEIU Local 1.

“(CPS) is putting profits ahead of children ... The city is turning its back on our city’s children, their parents and families, and our future.”

Here’s more from Saffold:

* The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this website.


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