Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=181765
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Molly Born/ MEDILL

Activists from throughout the state gathered Thursday morning in the Capitol rotunda to oppose recent legislation and budget cut announcements and to lobby for a state DREAM Act, redistricting and health insurance for children among other issues.


Immigration reform advocates lobby Springfield against budget cuts

by Molly Born
March 03, 2011


SPRINGFIELD -- When Arturo Gonzalez met Gov. Pat Quinn last October at a candidate forum, he offered Quinn a small dreamcatcher that fit in the palm of his hand. 


“I’m giving you this,” Gonzalez said he told Quinn, “to remind you of all the families that are suffering because of misguided policies.”

The dreamcatcher – a small hoop with a web in the center – belonged to Ramiro Avalos, a 20-something volunteer at Interfaith Leadership Project of Cicero, Berwyn and Stickney, where Gonzalez is an organizer. Avalos was stopped by police in September in Glendale Heights because the dreamcatcher was hanging from his rearview mirror, Gonzalez said.

The police were suspicious and contacted immigration authorities, he said.

The undocumented husband and father of two has lived in the U.S. for 16 years. Now he faces possible deportation as an illegal immigrant to his native Mexico, where conflict and violence are pervasive, Gonzalez said, poring over his notes of Avalos’ story.

Gonzalez said he uses experiences like Avalos’ to put a face on the immigration debate.

“It’s very hard,” he said, “And right now immigration is like a hot potato – nobody wants to touch it.”

But he and many others are getting hands-on as the debates heats up.

Gonzalez joined the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and other activists to lobby in Springfield Thursday for the group’s “One Nation, One Dream” advocacy day.

In the Statehouse rotunda, activists lobbied against state budget cuts that would slash immigrant services by 74 percent and refugee social services by 53 percent from current levels.

In addition, many voiced support for redistricting, diversity in government, health insurance for children, a state DREAM Act that would provide education funds to undocumented students, and allowing counties to opt out of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s controversial “Secure Communities” program that requires local police to help enforce immigration laws.

State Sen. Antonio Muñoz (D-Chicago) said a number of his constituents attended the rally. And many of his district’s organizations would face cuts if legislators approve the governor’s proposed budget in late spring.

Muñoz also identified undocumented residents – many like Avalos who have spent a significant part of their lives in the U.S. – as a group that deserves attention.

“People don’t realize the undocumented have so much to offer. [They] are talented just like any other individual that is born here in the U.S.,” Muñoz said. “They have a dream, just like everyone else. They work hard, they strive to live the American dream, and how can you not give them the chance?”

Among the hundreds gathering in the rotunda were leaders from Latino, Asian, Polish, African, Arab and Muslim communities, according to a coalition statement.

“Our presence here today is crucial to ensure that our communities are taken into account before key decisions are made in the state legislature,” said coalition Vice President Maria Pesqueria in a statement. “The support from our elected officials is critical to advance initiatives that have a direct impact on our communities.”