All posts by alexamencia2017

Undocumented and exposed under a Trump presidency

By Alexa Mencia

[A version of the story was originally published in The American Prospect.]

Operating room nurse Jose Aguiluz knew that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was only a Band-Aid for his immigration problem. It wasn’t a pathway to citizenship. The benefits it offered were limited, temporary.

But critically to Aguiluz, it was a way out of the shadows. For the first time since he fled Honduras to the U.S. in 2005, he found himself not having to tell white lies to his friends and peers. With a Maryland driver’s license, Aguiluz didn’t have to pretend that he had environmental reasons for not driving a car. With a work permit and a Social Security number, he worried less about having a run-in with the police. He didn’t have to think about how any and every action he took might lead to his deportation. Aguiluz was even able to visit Honduras without fearing that he would be denied re-entry into the United States.

But the DACA benefits that made Aguiluz feel more secure under President Obama could make him suddenly vulnerable when Donald Trump becomes president. Aguiluz and thousands of DACA recipients trusted the Obama administration with their personal identifying information in a trade-off that gained them short-term security. But in the turnover to Trump’s administration, that same identifying information could now be used against them. It’s one of the many unknowns now burdening DACA recipients, who have no idea how long their work permits might be valid, and who fear transgressions as petty as jay walking might get them deported. Efforts to protect such immigrants, moreover, face practical and legal barriers

With DACA…With Trump

Trump has pledged to end DACA and to deport between 2-3 million “criminal” aliens. Many DACA recipients now wonder whether they even have a future in the United States—in most cases, the only home they have ever known. With no clear sense of how the Trump administration will define criminality, DACA recipients can only speculate over who might be targeted for deportation. To date, the incoming administration has provided no information or clear direction as to what might happen to DACA recipients’ work permits, which have given them access to higher-paying jobs, health insurance and steadier work.

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One win for Illinois’ immigrant communities: mobilizing new citizens

By Alexa Mencia

Immigrant advocates linked arms in solidarity Wednesday morning to “resist and lead” following the jarring Election Day results. Many tried to inspire a renewed call to action for those feeling defeated by Donald Trump’s victory. Although the election of a political figure notorious for anti-immigrant rhetoric may seem like a setback, immigrant groups in Illinois have one clear achievement this election: mobilizing a new voter base.

Illinois immigrant rights organizers registered 25,292 new voters this year, according to Fred Tsao, senior policy counsel at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR).

The group put special emphasis on recently naturalized citizens to take advantage of the imminent election to facilitate naturalization, voter registration and voting with one coordinated effort.

Historically, it has seemed that as “the more recent the immigrant, the less likely that person is to register and vote,” acccording to a report by the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration (CSII) at the University of Southern California. But, this behavioral pattern seems more closely linked to registration than to voting. ICIRR registered 12,000 new voters at naturalization oath ceremonies alone, and once early voting began, the group accompanied the new citizens to polling places.  Take a look how the strategy paid off.

Photo at top: Citizenship applicants meet with a volunteer for assistance in the naturalization process at an ICIRR workshop in October. (Photo by Alexa Mencia/MEDILL)

Election Update 2016

Take a look at Medill Reports Election Update 2016. Voting has been under way for a few hours. Our reporters talked to voters about how they’re feeling now that Election Day is finally here. More updates will be posted throughout the day.

Posted at 1:50 p.m. CT

Today I’m a citizen. Today I vote.

By Alexa Mencia

Is there anything more empowering than a person becoming a citizen and immediately walking over to exercise the right to vote? You decide.

(Alexa Mencia/MEDILL)

Photo at top: Chicagoans vote early at the 15 West Washington Street location where many newly naturalized voters marched after their naturalization ceremony on November 3. (Alexa Mencia/MEDILL)

The heirloom of Mariachi music passes down through the generations

By Alexa Mencia

When the Chicago Symphony Orchestra welcomed Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, known internationally as the “World’s Best Mariachi,” last month, orchestra hall sold out.

Throughout the performance, audience members would let out a joyful, high-pitched yell in excitement—a signature of mariachi music known as a grito. The ensemble itself traces its history back more than 100 years, to 1897.

For the fully packed hall, Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán finished out their set by inviting the city’s own Chicago Mariachi Project to join them on stage, a gesture recognizing that the next generation of mariachi musicians can come from schools in Pilsen and Little Village.

Watch and listen to the Chicago Mariachi Project (Alexa Mencia/Medill)

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Shena Gutierrez won’t take U.S. border officials’ ‘no’ for an answer

By Alexa Mencia

[The story was republished in Truthout as Wife of Use-of-Force Victim Advocates to Hold Border Officials Accountable and on SJNN]

Shena Gutierrez’s husband José almost died March 30, 2011.

As the leader of a support network for those affected by U.S. border authorities’ use of force, Gutierrez knows her husband was one of the lucky ones. But after José survived a coma and traumatic brain injuries attempting to cross back into Arizona after being deported, he hasn’t been the same.

“He has multiple personalities now because of the trauma he sustained. I don’t ever know what my day will look like,” Gutierrez said.

“He’s still in danger of deportation. So after everything we went through—all the horrors we went through—they’re still holding it over our heads.”


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