By: Natalie Rodriguez
The chants, “Sin papeles, sin miedo!” or “Undocumented, unafraid!” were heard on the streets of Chicago, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017 during a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protest. The protest was in response to the rescission of DACA announced earlier that day by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. DACA was a program passed by the Obama administration in 2012 to protect undocumented youth from deportation. The program currently protects 800,000 undocumented persons brought illegally before the age of 16.
Hundreds of people gathered at the Federal Plaza in downtown Chicago. Many were undocumented recipients of DACA, such as 21-year-old Isela Ortiz.
“Growing up, I always considered myself American and I still consider myself American,” said Ortiz. “People brought over here as children, they didn’t have a choice- I didn’t even know I was undocumented until I was 16, trying to look for a job.”
After gathering at the Federal Plaza for a few minutes, protesters began marching down Dearborn until finally meeting at the intersection of Congress and Clark. Four DACA recipients spoke to give their own experiences with DACA and living with an undocumented status.
“Young, brave, undocumented people, risked their lives with deportation to achieve what we have now. And young people like me benefitted from that,” said Luis Gomez,
“We went to school, we got jobs, we bought houses, and we provided for our families. I went to college which was something I never thought possible.”
Overall though, there was a message of inclusivity and protection for all immigrants.
“My brother and my parents do not qualify for DACA and I cannot stand here and only advocate for myself,” said Maria Torres as she spoke to the crowd. “Who am I to say that they are less deserving than me to live without fear?”
Recipients of DACA are given a social security card that allows them to apply to college, jobs and have a driver’s license if they maintain a clean criminal record. The program allowed many undocumented persons to come out of the shadows and trust the U.S. government for the first time. After Tuesday’s decision, Ortiz, brought into the country when she was a year old, fears for her future.
“As of now, I felt safe, I felt like I wasn’t hiding, I felt like I had a voice,” said Ortiz. “Now, I feel again like I’m going to hide and like people don’t want me here. I feel like I’m not as equal to others even though I know I am.”
It is estimated that the federal government will lose $60 billion after deporting DACA taxpayers. According to a report by the Center for American Progress(CAP), 91 percent of recipients are employed contributing a large amount to the economy.
“I love helping people and I’m not a bad person,” said Ortiz. “I don’t go around selling drugs or in gangs, I’m just living my life. I don’t think I’m stealing anyone’s job, we work hard for what we got and it just sucks that people see us as taking other people’s jobs which I don’t see at all.”
Los Angeles native, Alex Shams, agrees with Ortiz’s statements, “I think the idea that they’re taking away jobs is a myth, they’re not taking away jobs, they add to the economy, they’re an important part of this country.”
Shams, like many others, came to the protest in solidarity with the undocumented community.
“I grew up around undocumented people, some of my closest friends were undocumented dreamers and non-dreamers, and I’ve always felt very strongly that they have a right to be here just like everyone else,” said Shams. “I think what happened today is part of a larger process of racist policies and actions by Donald Trump targeting vulnerable communities.”
President Trump has allowed Congress a six-month period to work on a permanent solution for undocumented youth. In the meantime, Chicago DACA recipients work towards having their voices heard by those in power.
“Every so often he [Mayor Rahm Emanuel] comes on TV and says he has my back. But when DHS harasses me, when I’m trying to speak, it’s not sanctuary,” said Gomez. “That is why we undocumented people call on all the citizens of this city and of this state, to demand for Rahm Emmanuel to pass the Welcoming City Ordinance with no carveouts! As long as people who look like me, brown people can be put into gang data bases, and be deported with the help of CPD, we do not have sanctuary, we have never had sanctuary!”
Gomez refers to the 2012, Welcoming City Ordinance, passed by the City of Chicago with the purpose to create a sanctuary for immigrants as well as trust between the undocumented community and police. Under the ordinance, police officers cannot arrest someone based off their documented status or turn the person over to immigration authorities.
Although at the time seen as a step forward, many immigrants soon realized there were exemptions in the ordinance that allow Chicago Police to work with immigration agencies to deport someone. These exemptions occur an individual: has an outstanding criminal warrant; has been identified as a gang member in a gang database; has been convicted of a felony in court or are a defendant in a pending criminal case. These loopholes can prevent undocumented immigrants from standing due process and becoming criminalized before reaching the court system. Gomez asks politicians to give the protection they promised before it’s too late.
“Do not come to us with your empty words of support, I don’t need them and I don’t want them,” said Gomez. “They should act now. Act now and act boldly because if you do not you’re no different from the one who is seeking to deport me.”