Not From There: The Undocumented Series, part four

By Keith Hernandez

DeKALB — Department of Homeland Security memos regarding enhanced enforcement of President Donald Trump’s immigration executive order sparked a call to action by local activists and NIU students the past week.

The memos, published Feb. 20, outline a plan to expand immigration enforcement to undocumented immigrants who have committed or have been suspected of committing any crime — priority was given to those who committed felonies before the change — and to end “catch and release,” which means undocumented immigrants who cannot prove they have lived in the United States for more than two years will face immediate deportation without review upon their arrest and those who can will be detained to await removal hearings, according to the memos.

Bharathi Pillai, American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, said the ACLU is forming “rapid response” teams of lawyers who could respond to Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids.

“Often, these kind of ICE raids happen early in the morning, late at night, and we’re trying to have people be on the ground right away,” Pillai said. “Right now, we are just seeing huge attacks on so many areas of our civil liberties and civil rights, and we’re expecting to continue to see that.”

Local members of Action Steps for America, a progressive activist group focused on a range of issues in opposition to a GOP-led Congress and administration, have been meeting every weekend for more than a month to discuss what they can do for local undocumented families and students, among other topics.

The group planned to address its concerns to U.S. Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) at a town hall meeting Tuesday at the DeKalb Area Women’s Center, 1021 State St., but instead delivered questions to a cardboard cutout of the congressman.

“The immigration system is broken in this country, and these people are essentially American citizens — they have worked here, made a home here; they give to your community, contribute, pay taxes,” said Sarah Moses, who organized the meeting along with the DeKalb Area Progressives.

Representatives from both groups said they attempted to reach out to Kinzinger but were told his schedule was full.

The town hall was one of several held across the country the past week as congressmen returned home to hear from their constituents. Trump responded Tuesday with suspicion over the growing number of progressive groups, such as Indivisible, that want to meet with their representatives.

“The so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists. Sad!” Trump said in a Feb. 21 statement on Twitter.

NIU students have also mobilized responses to the executive order within the past two weeks.

More than 60 students, faculty and staff participated in a march Feb. 17 to protest the upcoming enhancements to immigration law. The march was met with mostly positive reactions by onlookers.

In addition to protests, NIU students plan to provide resources for those who may be affected by the executive orders. NIU DREAM Action will host a seminar at noon March 8 in the Holmes Student Center, Blackhawk Annex, during which an ACLU lawyer will discuss the rights of undocumented students, among other topics, and answer questions.

While Deferred Action for Early Childhood Arrivals students are not directly targeted by the immigration memos, Mindy, an undocumented student at NIU, said many are afraid of being separated from their families who are not protected. She wished to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions against her family and job, and the name “Mindy” protects her anonymity.

Mindy said students have helped each other cope with the fear by expressing their feelings to one another and communicating quickly to combat rumors.

“I think a lot of times, it’s the talking and the venting that’s really, really helpful,” Mindy said.

NIU DREAM Action will also hold Coming Out of the Shadows, an event in which undocumented immigrants gather to publicly announce their immigration statuses, March 29 in MLK Commons. Mindy said the event is not just invaluable for undocumented students who can gain a sense of empowerment from the experience, but for allies as well.

“When you’re not undocumented, it really helps you look at the other side of the argument,” Mindy said. “It’s a reality check as to, ‘this isn’t a problem that’s not affecting you.’ It is, and it makes you want to learn more.”

Keith Hernandez is a staff writer. He can be reached at [email protected]