CHICAGO–“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These exact words, spoken by one of America’s founding fathers Thomas Jefferson, represent a major statement on human rights and equality all around the world. Now, these words have fallen silent to deaf ears in the land of freedom and equality.Since 2003, ICE (Immigrations Customs Enforcement) has been responsible for “identifying, investigating, and dismantling vulnerabilities regarding the nation’s border, economic, transportation, and infrastructure security,” according to ICE’s website.However, in more recent years, ICE has been heavily criticized by human rights activists and is being questioned on the ethical implications of its actions while maintaining such responsibility. When asked on the fact that less than 20 percent of those being rounded as an imminent threat to national security have a criminal background, ICE officials have simply described the rest of the detainees as “collateral damage.”
Such “collateral damages” include families torn apart, young people denied of a bright future, and basic human rights completely disregarded. All of these and more are some of the grave consequences of ICE’s “Secure Communities” initiative.
Antonio Arceo, father of four and resident of Maple Park, Illinois who was featured in the 2011 Frontline documentary Lost in Detention, became “collateral damage” when his wife got arrested for a traffic misdemeanor. She was detained, booked and sent to a detention center without any notification to her family, before being deported back to Mexico in 2009. “I didn’t know where she was, I felt lost and no one would give me any information,” says Arceo of the frustration and despair caused by the event.
Now, Arceo, a single father who is raising his children alone has expressed a feeling of hopelessness describes the void left by the loss of one of the main pillars in his family. “I wanted to go to college, and be a lawyer” one of Arceo’s American born sons says, “but now, I don’t know, I can’t really be focused on that anymore.”
Factors like the Safe Communities Initiative and the unspeakable abuse in make-shift detention centers for undocumented immigrants, such as the infamous Willacy center in the state of Texas, have prompted human rights activist groups all around the country, such as Chicago based Immigration Youth Justice League, to voice their opposition to ICE and current immigration laws through marches and demonstrations. Unfortunately ICE’s branch in Chicago was unable to comment, due to “limited time and resources on inquiries and requests from mainstream media outlets.”
On a mild mid-March afternoon in Chicago’s Daley Center, hundreds of undocumented young students led by the Immigration Youth Justice League gather to make their voices heard.
This demonstration is part of the Immigration Youth Justice League’s annual “Coming Out of the Shadows” event in which undocumented youth are encouraged to leave fear behind and openly discuss their dire situation. “For 18 years we’ve lived in fear and shame. 18 years beating down on me with a list of cants.” Alaa Mukahhal, undocumented Palestinian student says, “can’t work, can’t travel, can’t get financial aid …18 years later, I’m still here.”
Events like the “Coming out of the Shadows” rallies are designed to encourage the people to speak up and to put a face to the problem. “This year we are promoting our undocumented, unafraid and unapologetic message” Tania Unzueta, Immigration Youth Justice League spokesperson and activist, says “we were promised immigration reform within the first hundred days of the Obama administration and nothing has changed.”
With two wars on two different fronts, an unstable economy, and political bipartisan games, the Obama administration seems to have left the issue of migratory reform lingering in the shadows. On his 2011 speech on the issue of immigration reform in El Paso, Texas, President Obama expressed that his administration’s promise to bring the number of enforced deportations has been kept and now it is time for Congress to consider the reform. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of undocumented citizens wait for such promised change, running out of patience and out of time.
These silent bystanders have decided to create a voice through unity, “By supporting each other, the shame is now gone,” says Unsueta, “now we have turned to each other and we have said, OK, what’s next?”
In a vital election year for the Obama administration, more and more organizations like the Immigration Youth Justice League keep working arduously to shed some light on this critical, yet somewhat overseen issue. And so, with the information and the education provided by such organizations, people are becoming more aware and more disenchanted with the current administration and their immigration policies.
It is no longer an issue about pleading; it is an issue of demanding the basic happiness that humans are entitled to, “The only hope lies in the risks we’re willing to take, in the boundaries we’re willing to push, so stand up straight, without any fear or apologies. Tell me, what are you willing to risk?” Mukahhal says, “My name is Alaa, and I’m undocumented, unafraid, and unapologetic.”