CHICAGO – Hundreds of young people demonstrated on Friday inside city hall to ask for an end to the deporting of undocumented immigrants, in particular a young Mexican man attending the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Chanting slogans like “Our youths, our nation, no to deportation,” the protesters filled the city hall’s second-floor lobby where Mayor Richard M. Daley has his office.
On the next floor up in the City Council chamber, the human relations commission would later hear testimony in favor of the DREAM Act, a piece of legislation sponsored by Illinois Democratic Sen. Richard Durban that would grant some immigrant students who arrived in the United States as children a chance to earn conditional permanent residency.
The protest was organized by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, or ICIRR, and participants were particularly focused on the case of Rigoberto Padilla, 21.
“Rigo,” as his friends call him, arrived in Chicago at the age of 6 with his mother and two sisters from the western Mexican state of Jalisco.
They came to join his father who had arrived several years previously and worked as a cook.
Padilla’s case came to public attention on Jan. 18 when he was arrested for drunk driving and for carrying no documents after a party with college pals.
It then came to light that he was undocumented, and despite his record as a good student with good behavior, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would only release him if he accepted wearing an ankle bracelet.
“I’m not a criminal, I’m just someone who made a mistake that can now destroy my life,” Rigo told the crowd that applauded and chanted his name.
“I’ve studied in this country, I work, I pay taxes, I want to go on studying and become a lawyer,” he said.
“Now the system wants to separate me from my family, my friends and the country I consider my home,” he said.
Joshua Hoyt, executive director of the ICIRR, said that Padilla’s case is no different from that of hundreds of thousands of young people in the United States “trapped in a painful reality.”
“They were brought to this country when they were little, they’re Americans in every way except their immigration status, and despite their excellence we don’t want them,” he said.
City Councilman George Cardenas, also a Jalisco native and author of the proposal to discuss the DREAM Act in the council, said that immigration authorities have refused to be flexible in the case of Rigo despite it being within their power.
Attorneys and activists said that Padilla thought that using the electronic bracelet was helping his situation.
But ICE used the bracelet to speed up the deportation process and now Padilla must leave the country by Dec. 16.
“If he had known the consequences, he would never have accepted using the bracelet,” Hoyt said.
The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act establishes mechanisms for undocumented youths to legalize their immigration status, get financial aid for their education and for completing their university courses.
It is estimated that some 65,000 undocumented youths graduate from high school in the United States every year.
The bill, which has not managed to progress in Congress for several years, was again brought forward for consideration in March by Durbin and was signed by another 32 senators and 105 representatives. EFE