Durbin headlines at local immigration reform rally

A young man stood inside the gazebo of Champaign’s West Side Park playing Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’” while community members held up signs proclaiming their support for immigration reform.

Some used cards provided by Organizing for Action, a non-profit organization that held the event, to explain why they “#StandWith” immigration reform, while others made their own; one sign asked Representative Rodney Davis, R-13, where he stood on the issue.

OFA-Illinois held the event “to send a message to Rodney Davis that Champaign and its constituents support a pathway to citizenship and immigration reform,” said Scott Cross, chapter leader for OFA-Springfield.

Cross said he wants to see Davis join with some of his fellow Illinois Congressmen, like Senator Mark Kirk, R-Ill. and Rep. Aaron Schock, R-18, by changing his views on immigration reform.

Saturday’s event had 13 speakers from several levels of government. The Champaign-Urbana community was represented by small business owners, faith leaders, members of immigration-related organizations and State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-103.

The headliner was Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who watched his fellow speakers while standing amongst the crowd.

“I feel very strongly about this comprehensive immigration reform and particularly about the DREAM Act, which I introduced 12 years ago,” Durbin said. “We have a chance to make history and to make America a stronger country.”

The focus of comprehensive immigration reform is an earned pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country, Durbin and Cross said. This pathway is a 10 to 13 year process that includes paying a penalty and back taxes, learning English and passing a background check.

“That’s not amnesty, that’s an earned pathway – they have to show and go through all these steps,” Cross said. “These people want to pay taxes, some of them do pay taxes now, and they don’t have to, (but they do) because they know as part of the legislation they’ll have to.”

The issue of immigration can be seen on college campuses across the country, Durbin said.

“You may meet someone in your class who’s a DREAMer – undocumented, has the same aspirations and goals you do in life, but they’re stopped because of our current legal system,” he said.

Durbin defined a DREAMer as a “person who was brought to the United States before the age of 16 and who is not here legally, today. They have to finish high school, have no serious criminal record and then go on to finish at least two years of college or enlist in the military, at which point they’re eligible for citizenship.”

One of those DREAMers is 24-year-old Lucy Cruz, who spoke to the crowd about the struggles she faced after her immigration to the United States at the age of 13. Currently living in Champaign, she works with the Champaign-Urbana Immigration Forum and is now documented with a 2-year work authorization.

As an undocumented immigrant, Cruz was unable to follow the paths of many of her peers.

“I guess I didn’t realize the effect that it had until it was time to go to college and apply,” Cruz said. “That’s when it really hit me, plus it was time to get a driver’s license and do all these things that normal people do, except me, because I couldn’t ... That’s when you really realize, ‘What am I going to do?’”

By telling her story, Cruz said she wants to send a message to her peers who do have opportunities as citizens of the United States.

“If you can vote, if you have a voice, tell your congressmen to support comprehensive immigration reform ... I’m sure you probably know someone who is undocumented, maybe some of your friends have the same situation as me,” she said. “Just get involved, and tell them that we want immigration reform.”

Eleanor can be reached at eablack2@dailyillini.com.