Northwestern students, Evanston residents lobby legislators for immigrant rights

Oliver Ortega

SPRINGFIELD ­- A group of Northwestern students and Evanston residents joined more than 1,100 people Wednesday to lobby legislators in Springfield to support immigrant rights.

10 NU students and five members of Evanston-based group Immigration Advocacy Project participated in the event, which was organized by the Illinois Coalition for Immigration and Refugee Rights.

The group’s 2012 platform includes allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses and maintaining a nationally-recognized health insurance program in Illinois that provides coverage for children in low-income families regardless of legal status.

Weinberg senior Chiarra Manzanares, one of the student organizers, said NU participants were mostly composed of a core group of five to six people who usually take part in similar activism opportunities. Compared to other universities in the Chicago area, “Northwestern doesn’t have as long of a history of activism,” Manzanares said.

Several students from the University of Chicago attended the event. UChicago senior Jonathan Rodrigues said he was pleased with the programming and thinks the lobbying Wednesday could produce concrete political results.

“People don’t believe that democracy works,” Rodrigues said. “But at the state level these legislators are moved by seeing their constituents, so that’s why we come.”

Rodrigues is one of the founders of UChicago’s Coalition for Immigrant Rights. The group had previously convinced administrators to mention the fact that they accept applications from undocumented students on their international financial aid website.

“All students who apply, regardless of citizenship, are considered for admission to the University and for every type of private financial aid for which they may qualify,” according to the website.

The event started with a rally in the Michael J. Howlett State Office building in Capitol Complex. Later, groups were instructed to meet with legislators from their district. Participants also wrote thank you notes and presented them at the offices of Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and other prominent supporters of immigration integration-related legislation.

State Reps. Daniel Biss (D-Skokie) and Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) met with the NU and Evanston delegation. Manzanares, who scheduled the meetings, said state Sen. Jeff Schoenberg (D-Evanston) was not available to meet with students Wednesday.

Weinberg junior Sandra Garnica said Biss was responsive and honest during their conversation.

“He was very realistic about his promises,” Garnica said. “He said he will support any legislation about giving driving licenses.”

ICIRR’s 2012 platform focuses on 10 issues that show the breadth and diversity of the immigrant community, said ICIRR organizing director Stephen Smith.

Two of these issues are an anti-Islamophobia resolution and an Asian-American State Employment Plan designed to increase the number of Asian-American U.S. government employees and set up an Asian-American caucus within the Illinois General Assembly.

Smith said he thought 2011 was a good year for immigrant communities. In September, Quinn signed the Illinois DREAM Act, which paves the way for a scholarship fund for undocumented students and aims to help undocumented students transition to college.

The program will be funded by private donors, not taxes. Three members of the DREAM Fund Commission, Clare Munana (Kellogg ‘89), Nam Paik (Law ‘88), and Ronald Perlman (The Graduate School ‘84), are NU alumni and will help distribute the funds.

In May, Quinn ended the Secure Communities Program in Illinois. Secure Communities is a federal initiative that identifies and deports undocumented residents and gives counties the option of not having them. Other measures include passing the Voting Rights Act, which supporters say protects the votes of minorities by limiting the effects of gerrymandering, Smith said. Gerrymandering refers to a practice of drawing districts in a way that politically favors one party.

The Evanston residents that attended the event are members of the Immigration Advocacy Project, a group formed by local resident Rachel Heuman.

Kathlyn Myers, a member of IAP who lives in Rogers Park, said the event allowed vital contact between legislators and their constituents.

“There is a lack of a lot of services to immigrant populations,” Myers said. “This was an opportunity to speak with our legislators.”

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