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Acuerdo Leaders Meet with Senator Dick Durbin

  ·  Manuel Gonzales

Latino Policy Forum Communications Manager

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin sat across the table from the young community organizer as she choked back tears and admitted that many DACA recipients like herself, who she works with in the south suburbs, are seeing their American dreams fade away.  

“We are tired and we are lost,” Elizabeth Cervantes, cofounder of Southwest Suburban Immigrant Project, told the senator from Illinois who authored the original DREAM Act. “So you’d think that after all we have experienced we can take any reality we are facing. And so I ask humbly, yet firmly for an honest analysis of what’s next this year for people like me and the thousands of young people like me in this country. And because I have to face a community back at home after this, I ask, should I keep trying? Should I keep working? Should I even stay?” 

Figure 1: Forum Executive Director Sylvia Puente welcomes Senator Durbin

Cervantes was among 30 members of the Forum’s Acuerdo network, Illinois Latino Agenda and staff attending a Forum-sponsored community meeting with Sen. Durbin this week at El Valor Carlos Cantu Children & Family Center in Little Village about the latest updates on immigration, education, and healthcare and their impact on Latinos.

The Senator greeted the group of civic leaders and urged them to rally their communities around staving off what he called the “vengeful, anti-immigrant policy” of the Trump administration. On the issue of the omnibus budget that Trump signed earlier this month, Congressional Democrats have claimed victories in getting in the neighborhood of $60 billion for non-defense spending on domestic programs and social services. “More money in domestic programs than we’ve seen in 10 years,” Sen. Durbin said. “The right-wing media was ripping it apart because too much was for non-defense spending like housing and education.”

Figure 2: Senator Durbin explains the recent budget bill that the president signed

Speaking about the recent announcement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the 2020 Census would have a “citizenship question,” Durbin blasted the idea as a “conscious effort to discourage minorities and undocumented from (participating in the) census and another effort to suppress voting and suppress political representation.”

Durbin added that it would discourage minorities, especially immigrants from turning in their census forms. The census results “will determine congressional districts, how boundaries are drawn, they’ll determine federal money coming back to Illinois and various states … the money we receive for highways depends on the number of people who live in our state. If people are discouraged from signing up for the census, or are afraid of signing up for the census and don’t turn up in numbers, then everybody pays for it.”

Figure 3: Forum Board Member Luis Avila addresses challenges facing Illinois Latinos

The Senator has thrown his support behind Illinois’ attorney general, who joined several other state AGs in suing the federal government to prevent the citizenship question. 

Relief for Puerto Rico also has been a major sticking point for Latinos in Chicago. “It is an embarrassment that we have waited so long to provide the basics. Still 10 percent of the island has no electricity and it will be months before that’s filled,” Durbin said. “We would never ever have allowed this disaster to go on in the continental United States as we have on this island.”

It was Cervantes’ poignant description of the fears and stresses DACA recipients are facing, that really brought the issue home for many in the room.

“Don’t give up; I’m not giving up on you,” responded Durbin, who admitted that the fate of the DREAMers is in the hands of the courts at this point, which issued an injunction on Trump’s attempts to rescind DACA. “If it’s your decision to renew, do it as quickly as you can. I think court protection will continue for those who have DACA status, but I don’t know for how long. I don’t know if it’s a matter of months or longer. We are less than eight months away from an election, less than eight months … 85 percent of the American people are (supporting the DREAMers).”

Figure 4: Senator Durbin thanks Elizabeth Cervantes for sharing her DACA story

Figure 4: Senator Durbin thanks Elizabeth Cervantes for sharing her DACA story

As for what must be done, Durbin reiterated the importance of getting immigrants naturalized, getting citizens out to vote and have faith and hope in the power of the courts.  

"Your life, your story and what you’ve done with yourself is winning support every day,” Durbin said. “And I believe in the system of government.”

Figure 5: Juan Carlos Linares, Executive Director of Latin United Community Housing Association (LUCHA), introduces his children to Sen. Durbin

Posted In: Immigration Reform & Policy