Chicago residents hold vigil to protest deportation of Cincinnati woman

Jia You

CHICAGO – ­More than 50 Chicago residents gathered for a vigil Monday night protesting the scheduled Tuesday morning deportation of a Cincinnati woman, joining a national effort to bring her plight to light.

22-year-old Yanelli Hernandez illegally entered the United States from Mexico at 13. She was arrested last April and charged with driving under the influence and forgery when she produced Mexican identification that the police did not recognize.

She was ultimately convicted on both counts and an immigration judge issued her deportation order Wednesday.

Hernandez reportedly suffers from depression and has attempted suicide twice while detained in Ohio this summer.

The vigil was organized by Immigrant Youth Justice League, an organization led by undocumented Chicago youth advocating for full recognition of immigrants’ rights.

“Her story resonated with a lot of us that have grown up angry, frustrated and have gone through similar experiences as hers because of our undocumented status,” said IYJL leader Rigo Padilla, who came to the U.S. when he was 6 years old. “For us, it was something we had to rally around.”

Participants formed a circle in front of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement building, 101 W. Congress Parkway, and passed around white electric candles, chanting “Education, not deportation.”

A vigil organizer read aloud a letter Hernandez wrote from prison to her mother in September.

“Well mom, don’t worry about me, I’m okay,” Hernandez wrote. “I hope that one day I’ll be able to be with all of you again.”

Later, undocumented youth at the event shared their experiences with the audience.

“I’m tired of suffering alone,” said an undocumented immigrant named Antonio who declined to give his last name. “I’m tired of hiding. It’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees.”

He added the fear of deportation affects everything he does – even buying a bottle of milk from the store.

IYJL leader Padilla said his organization is trying to make Jan. 30 “National Undocumented Youth Mental Health Day” to raise awareness about mental health problems affecting young illegal immigrants.

“You grow up in this country through the education system, you’re told that if you work hard you’re gonna get something in return,” Padilla said. “When you begin to realize what it means to be undocumented… that creates a lot of fear. It also creates a lot of guilt.”

The immigrant advocacy group has also built a website to provide mental health resources to undocumented youth, he said.

Northwestern alumna Carla Argueta(SESP 2010) works for a nonprofit organization on immigration issues and attended the vigil Monday night. She said she found the stories told by the young immigrants “very powerful.”

“You hear these stories all the time, you know, the president keeps making announcements that things are gonna get better,” she said. “But at the same time we have people who are trying to commit suicide in detention. It’s really ridiculous.”

The Obama administration announced in August it would suspend deportation proceedings against illegal immigrants who pose no threat to national security or public safety.

“Let’s at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses, defend this country,” President Barack Obama said last week during the State of the Union Address. “Send me a law that gives them the chance to earn their citizenship. I will sign it right away.”

The IYJL will hold a workshop for mental health professionals on working with undocumented immigrants at Malcolm X College in Chicago on Saturday as part of the Illinois Immigrant Integration Summit.

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