Immigrant community finds way forward after election

By Alex Ortiz

“I couldn’t tell them that things were going to be OK,” Jose Muñoz recalls as he and undocumented students watched election night returns Nov. 8 in Pilsen. “All I could tell them was that we are there to support them.”

Students gathered at Resurrection Project that night hoping for an altogether different result than the election of a presidential candidate, who has repeatedly promised to deport undocumented residents, including college students who sought sanctuary under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).  As the night went on and they realized Donald Trump was, indeed, the president-elect, Muñoz, vice president of community ownership, consoled one of the undocumented students who cried.

“It was just a moment where I just ended up holding the guy,” Muñoz said. “I just sat there with them, and really it was just a hug and talking through that moment with them and being their for them.”

A new, terrifying reality set in as students considered the prospect of being sent back to a country they did not call home. They would lose the opportunity to work and earn money legally and be unable to continue their college education. Since DACA is an executive order signed by President Obama in 2012, Trump can rescind the order on Day One of his presidency, something he already said he would do.

DACA allows for immigrants brought to the United States illegally, many by their parents, before age 16 who did not have a criminal background to receive renewable two-year work permits and be exempt from deportation. Muñoz knew other students like the one who needed a hug on election night would take the news hard as well.

The Resurrection Project immediately planned discussions and workshops to help stressed out students figure out what to do next.

For example, attendees learned about renewing their DACA permits and applying to become a legal resident. The project’s managing attorney, Julie Reiter Pellerite, gave individual counseling to students and their families.

“As soon as the decision was announced, I received emails that next morning,” Pellerite said. “We received lots of calls and people coming in just mostly scared and afraid of the unknown.”

These efforts echoed efforts across the country to declare sanctuary cities safe for immigrants in spite of the new administration’s threat of deportation. For example Mayor Rahm Emanuel reasserted Chicago’s status as a sanctuary city saying: “Chicago has been a city of immigrants since it was founded. We have always welcomed people of all faiths and backgrounds, and while the administration will change, our values and our commitment to inclusion will not.”

Other cities like New York City and Seattle made similar vows. About 30 major cities around the country, most of which are Democratic strongholds, are considered sanctuary cities or have said they will not to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in rounding up undocumented immigrants.

Nallely Silva, 22, is a volunteer with the Resurrection Project when she’s not working full-time as an events manager. DACA helped her work and get through college, and this is how she gives back.

Silva said she’s “grieving” over the election, and though she’s typically outgoing, she was virtually speechless for two days afterward. Some of her friends did not understand and were apathetic to her concerns as a DACA recipient.

Friends told her “it’s gonna be alright. Don’t worry about it. Nothing’s going to happen to you,” she said. “And I think to tell somebody that they’re going to be OK when someone has directly told you they’re going to make sure you’re not OK, it’s very hard.”

Silva said she had faith her country would not elect Trump, calling the choice “heartbreaking” and her faith “completely misguided.” She said they are stuck with the results and they have to move on.

“It’s people they see every day who are Dreamers, who are undocumented, who are immigrants, who are gay or who are pro-choice, people who in this election are the enemy,” Silva said. “And it’s important for all of us who are threatened by Donald Trump to show those people who do not have to worry about the things that he’s trying to terrorize us with to make sure they understand why it’s important.”

Photo at top: The Resurrection Project hosts a DACA renewal workshop at the La Casa Resource Center in Pilsen on Nov. 15, for undocumented workers concerned President-elect Donald Trump will remove the executive order. (Alex Ortiz/MEDILL)