In October alone, immigrants and supporters of the comprehensive immigration reform bill have banded together from the U.S. Capitol to the Federal Plaza in downtown Chicago to demand Congressional action.
Isabel Anadon, senior policy analyst for the Latino Policy Forum, said this push for reform is nothing new but people are using different strategies to convey the same message. This includes Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) who were arrested Oct. 8 for protesting the lack of action by the House on immigration reform.
“I think what we saw [last] Tuesday was high-profile individuals taking a stance on the issue as well,” said Anadon, 37. “This type of civil disobedience has been around since the Civil Rights Movement.”
Jorge G. Zavala, 26, who has lived and worked in the Logan Square neighborhood for about three years, said this drive for reform is more visible than ever because Latino vote was critical to President Obama’s reelection. He said that Obama promised immigration reform but has deported more immigrants than ever before.
Anadon said about 1,100 deportations occur per day in the U.S. In 2012 alone, she said, a little more than 400,000 deportations took place.
Jorge G. Zavala said the government needs to put a human face on the immigration issue instead of only seeing it from a “breaking the law point of view.”
“We really need to understand the economic point of view,” he said.
In the Logan Square community, Jorge G. Zavala said most of the small businesses popping up are actually owned by minorities.
Douglas Rivlin, 50, director of communication for Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), said that looking at Chicago, the businesses that are growing and thriving are in the neighborhoods where immigrants live.
From a business standpoint, Anadon said, the current immigration law inhibits some companies from hiring well-qualified individuals, many who are foreign nationals, educated in this country. She said these people could offer new ideas in their individual fields and fuel the economy.
Jorge G. Zavala’s father, who shares his namesake and emigrated from Mexico as a child, said that these undocumented immigrants are still paying taxes.
“They don’t ask whether you’re legal when you’re shopping for milk or cookies,” Jorge Zavala 57, said.
Immigrants who come here illegally, Jorge G. Zavala said, for the most part want to be active members of their communities.
“Immigration reform would have a beneficial component to the community because of the opportunities that would allow citizens to not only empower themselves politically but also to empower themselves economically,” he said.
In addition, Rivlin said immigrants tend to be younger and are actually contributing more to the economy than they are taking away. He said that is why making legal immigration easier makes a lot of sense.
Despite the push for an easier path to citizenship, amendments to the immigration reform bill, like the “border surge” amendment introduced by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.) in June, continue to discourage immigrants from Mexico Anadon said.
A study by the Pew Research Center showed 6 million unauthorized immigrants from Mexico live in the United States last year, resulting in a decline of about 900,000 since 2007.
Rivlin said that this only further proves that there is no need to militarize the border. He said that it doesn’t make sense to always turn the immigration debate into a debate about Latinos.
In addition, Anadon said, this push to spend about $46 billion to add about 700 miles of fencing to the U.S.-Mexico border is offensive to the Latino community.
“What does this really mean when you essentially fund building a wall on the southern border and creating a military statement more funded and equivalent to what were doing with the warzone in Afghanistan?” she said.
As the debate over the comprehensive immigration reform bill continues to heat up, Zavala said he hopes the leaders of this country will remember that all of these people are humans too.
“I think immigration, especially in a city like Chicago that was built by immigrants — the movement is really felt here,” Zavala said, “especially in communities where traditionally immigrants have really fueled the economy.”