Back of the Yards group offers immigration support

immigration_featureTears filled his eyes as he remembered the feeling of losing his grandfather not being able to be with his extended family in Mexico during the time of sorrow. Edy Angel Dominguez Quezadas, a Chicago resident, is one of more than five million undocumented immigrants separated from their families by the U.S.-Mexico border.

He is also a member of the immigration committee at Holy Cross/Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish church in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, which is a group of individuals who advocate for immigration reform. The group provides the community with resources and helpful information about their rights—or lack thereof—as immigrants.

“One of the things she said was, ‘if I had papers I could be going on an airplane right now,’ I remember she was very angry and frustrated that she wasn’t going to be able to go,” Quezadas said about his mother.

Dreamers and Allies Unite
Founded in late 2007, the immigration board is a subcommittee of the parish council at the church, said Jose Alonso, co-founder of the organization. Alonso, an attorney at the Legal Assistance Foundation in Chicago, organized voter registration and awareness while at Northwestern University with a group of college-aged volunteers, which later flourished into what the organization is today.

“Now, we’re raising money for scholarships, we’re running Deferred Action clinics and we’re holding religious events to raise a consciousness,” said Alonso.

But one of the fastest growing fundraising methods for the church based organization is the Dreamers and Allies Run scholarship.

The idea came last year when committee member Hugo Alberto Dominguez Quezadas decided to run the Chicago Marathon to raise money for undocumented students who face challenges when applying for financial aid in college due to their immigration status.

As a result, three runners, including Hugo Dominguez, donned T-shirts that read, “I run for undocumented students” and ran the 26.2 miles of the race in 2012, raising $26 per mile towards scholarship funds. The group was able to give out nine scholarships from their 2012 effort.

Undocumented. Unafraid. Unapologetic.

Many immigrants across America are using those words to describe themselves today and the group in the Back of the Yards is helping more immigrants do the same in the Chicago area.

Quintiliano Rios Perez, another member of the organization, is a graduate of DePaul University. He is also undocumented, something that not too long ago was unmentionable, he said.
“At first it was a taboo, to be talking about being undocumented, because there was always that fear that our parents passed on to us saying, ‘you shouldn’t be saying that you’re undocumented. You need to stay off the radar,’” said Perez.

But little by little, that philosophy changed. Rather than hiding, undocumented students started coming out of the shadows, he said.
“They started saying, ‘I’m undocumented, this is what I’m doing and I’m unafraid. I’m willing to change the system. I’m willing to come out for my family, for my community,’” said Rios Perez.

Made up of DREAMers (those who qualify for the DREAM Act) and allies who understand the concept of being an immigrant. The  group encourages others to stand up for what they believe is right and advocate for immigration reform. Alonso is and always has been a U.S. citizen, but the same wasn’t always true of his parents.

Immigration policy has paved the way to stop deportations for at least some individuals through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals memorandum. The process allows those who were brought to the United States before the age of 16 to obtain work authorization for a period of two years. Applicants must be enrolled in school, have graduated or received a certificate of completion from high school and have a clean criminal record.

Adriana Velazquez, finally felt a sense of relief when Deferred Action was passed in June 2012. Because of the process, the 23-year-old, a student at Northeastern University Illinois, has the opportunity to work in her field when she graduates.

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