Chicago Tribute reports: When she was a top student in her Chicago high school French class last year, Reyna Wences tried every excuse to avoid a planned field trip to Quebec. She knew she'd be arrested if she tried."Is it the money?" she recalled her teacher at Walter Payton Prep asking. Wences, fed up with the double life she'd been leading since her parents brought her into the country illegally nine years ago, finally said: "You know what? I'm undocumented."
In an event that might have been stymied by fear even a year ago, Wences and more than a dozen other undocumented students will risk making their status even more public Monday at a four-hour "coming out" summit in Pilsen coordinated by a new group hoping to push harder for reforms to the nation's Immigration system.
The Immigrant Youth Justice League, made up of about 15 Chicago-area students, is part of a wave of younger immigrant activists around the U.S. using more aggressive, in-your-face tactics to seek legal status as part of a volatile national debate that has stalled in Congress in recent years. They see an expected renewal of the debate this year as a last, best stand.The students whose activism was born during massive immigrant marches in Chicago and elsewhere years ago, have been behind several smaller recent battles, bouncing between Facebook campaigns and old-school organizing with equal ease.
In Chicago, they helped drive rallies staged on behalf of Rigo Padilla, 21, a Mexican-born student at the University of Illinois at Chicago who won a one-year stay of deportation last month. In Miami, another group of students staged rallies that helped win a similar deferral for two Venezuelan brothers."(These youth) are maturing politically, they are becoming more sophisticated in their strategies and are also recognizing that something more drastic needs to be done to achieve their legal status," said Nilda Flores-Gonzalez, a sociology professor at UIC who has been tracking youth activism in the Immigration movement.
A spokeswoman in Chicago for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement indicated Sunday that, despite their public declarations, the students would not necessarily be a high-priority for arrest. The Immigrant Youth Justice League was inspired by ongoing efforts to pass the so-called Dream Act, legislation that would grant conditional legal status to students who arrived as children. But the group, mostly Mexican-born, derives mainly from the Padilla campaign."There was this feeling that, if we can win that, there's so much more we could do as a group," said Tania Unzueta, 26, who, along with Padilla, is a founding member of the group.Uriel Sanchez, 18, had been promised financial aid for tuition, but the money vanished when an administrator asked him to provide a Social Security number."When we fail to speak up, when we fail to criticize ... " he said. "It is a far greater blow to the freedom, the decency and to the justice which truly represents this nation we call home."