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Immigration Fri Mar 11 2011

Chicago Youth Come Out as "Undocumented, Unafraid, and Unapologetic"

The idea is simple: young people getting together in front of cameras and onlookers and telling their stories.

Stories about their lives, their dreams, their fears--which all end with one phrase:

"Undocumented, unafraid, and unapologetic."

All photos by Sarah Jane Rhee.

Chicago Tribune reporter Mary Schmich called them "American in every way but the paperwork"--young people born outside of this country but brought here as children. Many call themselves DREAMers, the potential beneficiaries of the DREAM Act, the proposed legislation that would provide legalization to young people brought here as children by their parents that failed in the Senate last year.

Hundreds of such youth and their supporters gathered in Daley Plaza yesterday to out themselves to the world as undocumented and to demand the chance to become full U.S. citizens.

The Immigrant Youth Justice League held its first "coming out" rally last year, when eight undocumented youths stood in front of television cameras and hundreds of onlookers to proclaim they were "undocumented and unafraid." This year, after a separate group, the Moratorium on Deportations Campaign, marched from Union Park to Daley Plaza, almost twice that many young people took the stage to out themselves as youth without legal status in this country.

The first to speak in this year's rally was Alaa Mukahhal, a 24-year-old Kuwaiti-born Palestinian who has been in the U.S. since she was 7. When she finished her impassioned speech--ending, as did all other speakers, with the proclamation that she was "undocumented, unafraid, and unapologetic"--multiple members of the crowd visibly blinked away tears.

After the rally, Mukahhal spoke with Gapers Block.

Also at the rally was IYJL member Rigo Padilla, 23. He explained the group's past and present strategies.

"For the last year, we pushed national legislation. But now, with such an anti-immigrant congress, we need to push locally," he said. "We need a safe space for undocumented students in both Chicago and Illinois."

Padilla barely escaped deportation in 2009, when he was arrested for a DUI in which no one was hurt. A national campaign demanding the Obama administration rescind his deportation order eventually won Padilla--who recently graduated from UIC with honors and has a long history of community activism--a stayed deportation.

He stressed the importance of coming out as undocumented young people.

"The politicians are not going to change the situation--we have to come out, and be unapologetic about it."

National immigration reform is all but impossible this year, but Padilla discussed potential local legislation IYJL will be pushing. On the campaign trail this year, Mayor-Elect Rahm Emanuel proposed what he called a Chicago version of the DREAM Act (although IYJL member Tania Unzueta said in January that the proposal "felt dirty," given what many claim is Emanuel's history of holding back immigration reform).

Whatever national or local legislation is proposed in the near future, these undocumented young people are not going anywhere. If yesterday's rally is any indication, they will only grow louder and more unabashed about their lack of legal of status and desire to become full citizens of the only country they have known for the majority of their lives.

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WAJ / March 11, 2011 2:09 PM

So she is 24 years old, and in the past 6 years of being an adult, hasn't begun the naturalization process?

Color me unimpressed.

I have a hard time taking an organization seriously when they don't even bother to list US citizenship resources, or even a link to the application process on their website
Instead of facilitating the steps towards US citizenship, the organization's mission seems to be fomenting some percieved injustice towards the country they wish to become citizens? Sounds productive.

I'll do them a favor:

Go ahead and apply for citizenship. We all love legal immigrants, and applying for citizenship is a lot more productive then waiting for someone to hand it to you.

WAJ / March 11, 2011 2:42 PM


All IYJL members I have interviewed--and many who spoke at yesterday's rally--discussed their (in many cases repeatedly) stymied attempts to obtain citizenship in this country through the means you describe above.


Ally / March 11, 2011 2:45 PM

WAJ, I think you're not getting what being undocumented entails. Maybe if we pass the DREAM act or immigration reform so that these undocumented students CAN pursue citizenship, then the organization can put up resources, but until then, why rub it in by providing info on something these youths are being denied?

Vickie / March 13, 2011 9:24 AM

We know you are undocumented,unafraid, and unapologetic. You are also unwelcomed to your self entitlement. Go home.

Juancho / March 13, 2011 5:26 PM

VICKIE, just because your mother's crab infested vagina was geographically located on the other side of an imaginary line, doesn't entitle you to anything sweetie, not even your birthright citizenship.

Heidi / March 15, 2011 2:42 AM

To Vickie: you are fundamentally missing the point. What are your childhood memories? Do you remember when you were born? Do you remember when you were three? Five? Seven? Can you say that it is your fault if your parents got divorced when you were ten or they moved from California to South Carolina when you were eight? What say did you have at that age? And where do you call home now? I was born in Washington D.C. but my parents moved all over. But I call HOME New Hampshire, because that is where I have been "growing up" since I was eight years old. These young people GREW UP in the UNITED STATES. They FEEL like U.S. Citizens, because that is what the society made them, and what growing up here produced. What fault do they really have? And the fact is, it is impossible with the current laws for them to obtain citizenship. Have you ever gone to a migration office? The officers that I have dealt with as a U.S. born citizen were just awful- one in Chicago told me that asking about official translations for documents was the "stupidest question she has ever heard in the 20+ years she has been working there". I can just imagine what it would be like for these youth. And to think that they would have to go back to a country that they don't remember, and possibly even speak a language they never even became fluent in. Where's your humanity?

WAJ / March 15, 2011 2:47 PM

If they value US citizenship higher than the citizenship of their original country, then how is it that they expect others to value it so lightly that they would provide it to an individual based solely on their temporary geographic location? Just as citizenship is not taken away from someone if they they leave the US, it is not given to someone simply because they have spent time in the country.

I've read thru the stories that IYJL has posted from some of their members, and none discuss any attempts to work thru existing immigration procedures. The closest was a description of a family member petitioning on the individual's behalf.

These individuals are going to fall under jus soli (birthright citizenship) or jus sanguinis (blood right citizenship). Depending on where they are from, they may be able to establish citizenship in their rightful country and then apply for US citizenship.
(my good friend who came here illegally from the DR when he was 7 did just this and is now a full US citizen)

Its not that I'm unsympathetic to the plight of individuals whose citizenship limbo was a result of their parents' law breaking, but grievance, resentment, and being "unapologetic" is going to be counterproductive to gaining support for their cause. Does anyone really think that by calling people who are opposed to illegal immigration "haters" and accusing them of bigotry, that they are going to win support from people who may be open-minded to new proposals?

Adriana / March 15, 2011 5:46 PM

Unfortunately, there is no way to "start the naturalization process" if you are currently undocumented in this country. That is why our immigration and naturalization system is broken. Citizens and lawmakers alike are ignorant to these realities, and this is why it's so hard to change it.

WAJ / March 16, 2011 4:05 PM

Yeah, now that videos have posted on youtube of the march, I haven't seen a single instance where anyone discusses efforts to obtain citizenship thru existing procedures.

I did see that the march was joined by socialist and saw another video where an organizer from Citizen Orange was teaching IYJL activist tactics. Citizen Orange calls itself a "pro-migrant movement in the United States has the greatest potential for eradicating a host of global injustices and generating respect for peoples born on a different piece of the earth."

Socialist organizations, global justice movements, etc... Not exactly the groups that are supported by a majority of the US population (which is the segment that they'll need to convince to change the law).

Chicago Lampoon / March 16, 2011 5:16 PM

Daley announced that their would be 4k fewer city summer jobs for youth this summer and Challenger and Grey predicts it will be near immpossible for students to find summer jobs this year. Yet there at 609k illegal aliens in our area, most of them low-skilled labor. Cry if you want for them, but don't come crying when you or your kids can't find summer work for tuition. See:

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