Chicago: A City of DREAMers

Even before the Grand Avenue bus reached the Michigan underpass we could see droves of people shuffling toward and away from Navy Pier. I rode with two close friends of mine, sisters who were born in Ciudad Juarez and crossed the border (legally) before they’d reached school age — the younger sister had been only 6 months old at the time.

Now as young ladies, the two had called off work so that I could accompany them to Navy Pier for DREAM Relief Day, the day on which hundreds of thousands of undocumented young persons in the same predicament — known as DREAMers — would step out of the shadows and apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) on the first day . If granted deferment, these young men and women — American in every way but in the eyes of the law — would not be granted legal status, but would be able to live, work and drive a car in the only country they’ve ever known.

After we got off the bus at the end of the line, crossways from the main entrance, there already was a churning mass of people carrying manila envelopes and plastic folders. About half were waiting to climb onto one of the stationed buses; the other half were making their way to the south entrance.
We made our way through the Crystal Gardens building, noticing that most everyone was Latino. Of course, we knew Navy Pier would be filled to the gills with Latinos, but it’s one thing to imagine a public place jam-packed with Latinos and another thing entirely to actually see it. The whole scene was a bit surreal, bringing me back to a mall I visited in Tegucigalpa.

The closer we got to the Grand Ballroom — which is at the far end of the pier — we began to see an increasing number of people just sitting and standing around with dejected faces. It was then when we heard a passerby say, “Why didn’t they let us know that they only had enough room for so many people?” Event organizers weren’t accepting any more attendees; in fact, they were telling the people still waiting in the long line — that stretched the length of the pier, at least — to go home.

We’d missed it. My two friends had called out of work for absolutely nothing, and I had lost my chance to be a part of such a momentous event. I’m an American, you see; born and raised. But I have a penchant for history, so I’m always trying to be at the right place at the right time. Plus, it didn’t hurt that I’d get to see Senator Dick Durbin, the number two in the Senate, and Rahm Emanuel, one of the stone-cold pimps of American politics. (Earlier reports had said they’d be there, but I never found out if they actually showed up. And you know how politicians are — saying one thing, doing another.)

So there we stood, somewhere between the Odyssey II and the Ferris Wheel. Then I noticed a large group of people circled around something or someone. I approached the crowd, and there stood a short, brown-skinned, middle-aged man wearing a tan suit and speaking with a thick, Chicagorican accent. It was Luis Gutiérrez, the U.S. congressman representing Illinois’ 4th District. He was fielding questions.

I’d seen him before, the man at the center of the struggle for immigration reform, representing a city itself at the center of the struggle for immigration reform. He has a slick, city politician way of talking — strangely enough, it’s the same way in which I remember my own father talked — quick, personable, light-hearted, in-your-face.

My two friends and I didn’t get to participate in the event being held at the Grand Ballroom that day, the event organized by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR). But at the very least, we can say we showed up, just like the sea of others who will say the same. (One estimate pegged the number of people at close to 11,000, but I never noticed anyone counting all the Latino-looking faces.)

Plus, lest we forget, Wednesday was only the beginning. Undocumented Americans — because that’s what they are — will be stepping up to apply for deferred action so long as President Obama is in office, which makes re-electing him in November all the more crucial. Rumor has it that, because he passed health-care reform in his first term — something that had been the goal of the Democratic Party since FDR — Obama looks to make passage of the DREAM Act, or even comprehensive immigration reform, the legacy of his second term.

If the other guy wins — what’s his face — you can expect an immediate end to DACA. He might even authorize ICE to use the information gathered through DACA between now and January. So vote for what’s-his-face, if you don’t have any undocumented friends or family members.

The ICIRR will be hosting similar workshops from now on throughout the Chicago area. If you’re interested in attending one or would like to host your own, contact the ICIRR through the information provided on their website.

And as always, if you can vote this year, do.