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DREAM Act backers target GOP, Dems

Nine Chicago-area students were among 21 undocumented students arrested at the Capitol building in Washington yesterday in sit-ins demanding action on the DREAM Act.

Seventeen of the 21 were released today, and supporters believe immigration authorities have not been notified, said Rigo Padilla of Immigrant Youth Justice League, who is in Washington.  The nine Chicagoans were members of IYJL, he said.

In Chicago, local elected officials and immigrant advocates, including ICIRR and Latinos Progresando, delivered a letter to U.S. Representative Mark Kirk urging him to cosponsor the DREAM Act.  The bill would establish a path to legalization for undocumented students who have grown up here and complete college or serve in the military.

In Washington, though, the DREAMers mainly targeted Democrats, sitting in at the offices of Senators Harry Reid, Charles Schumer, Diane Feinstein, Robert Menendez, and Republican John McCain.  Several of the Democrats are cosponsors the the bill, and McCain has supported it in the past but backed off from that position recently.

“These are five champions of immigration reform who have the power in Congress to move the DREAM Act to the Senate floor,” Padilla said.

Schumer and Menendez have argued that the DREAM Act is a diversion from comprehensive immigration reform; Feinstein cosponsored the bill in 2003 but is now pushing legislation allowing agricultural guest workers.

That may be why Senator Richard Durbin, chief sponsor of the bill, had harsh words for the protestors.  His office told The Hill that they’d “crossed the line from passionate advocacy to inappropriate behavior.”

Durbin “believes that we will win this fight on the merits, not through public demonstrations or publicity stunts,” his office said.

It’s not clear, however, that legislators are committed to considering the bill on its merits, without strenuous pressure from outside.  Indeed, just two months ago The Hill reported that Durbin was “holding back” on the DREAM Act out of deference to senators who favor a comprehensive bill – and quoted him saying “I’m not pushing that” and “it’s unlikely we’ll get to it this year.”

In a post at The Dream is Coming, IYJL leader Tania Unzueta says that after her efforts to obtain legal status were stymied, she “pinned a lot of hopes for my future on the 2003 DREAM Act.  It failed.  I hoped again in 2007 [with] the same result.”

The undocumented students model themselves on the civil rights movement – and Durbin might reflect on the importance of the march in Selma in winning passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Immigrant rights advocates are also disillusioned with the Obama administration which, despite words of support for reform, has sharply stepped up deportations.

Yesterday’s actions are part of three days of activities by DREAM Act supporters, including legislative visits, a mock graduation ceremony, and a DREAM Act University outside the Capitol, with professors offering lessons on immigration history and policy, Padilla said.  About 500 DREAMers and supporters are participating, he said.

DREAM Act supporters have held hunger strikes at congressional offices in New York and North Carolina, and three students started a hunger strike at Feinstein’s office in Los Angeles today.

Here are eight reasons to pass the DREAM act immediately.

Rally for summer youth jobs

Two years ago advocates told Newstips that unemployment among black youth between 16 and 19 in Chicago was a stunning 90 percent.  It’s doubtful that situation has improved.

The LIFE Campaign — Leaders Investing for Equality – which includes youth leaders from community groups in Albany Park, Kenwood-Oakland, Little Village, and Woodlawn, is rallying tomorrow (Friday, July 2, 10 a.m.) at the Thompson Center, calling on Governor Quinn to sign a bill passed by the General Assembly allocating money for 5000 youth jobs.

Normally, they say, summer youth jobs start on the first business day after Independence Day.

Chicago leader on ‘coming out’ as undocumented

In These Times interviews Chicago activist Tania Unzueta, saying she “may be America’s most visible undocumented activist.”

Unzueta directs Radio Arte‘s youth training program and helped found the Immigrant Youth Justice League.   She was one of five undocumented students who sat in at Senator John McCain’s Tucson office last month to protest new anti-immigrant laws in Arizona and demand passage of the DREAM Act.  (She talked with Newstips about it the next day.)

Unzueta talks about drawing inspiration from SNCC’s youth-led civil disobedience, and from Harvey Milk about the importance of “coming out.” Asked about the DREAM Act, she cites her work with undocumented students at Radio Arte:

“I have students who sit in my office and talk about how they can’t go to school, how they’re scared their mom might get deported, how they can’t get a drivers license, how they wish they could study abroad, how their grandmother is dying in Mexico and they can’t visit her – because they’re undocumented.”

About immigration reform:  “It’s important to have a system that acknowledges that there’s a need in the United States for the labor immigrant workers provide, that provides  a way for people who are pulled into the economy to do so legally, and that acknowledges that those workers are people who have families and their families need access to education.

“There needs to be a way for people who are already here to become legal, and for those who come because they’re pulled by the economy to have a pathway to citizenship.”

In the same issue, ITT also looks at ties between Arizona politicians and the private prison industry, which supports efforts to replicate Arizona’s SB 1070 in other states.

“The immigration dragnet created at SB 1070 [and similar bills] will greatly increase the numbers of undocumented residents who are arrested and jailed.  And that bodes well for the bottom lines of private detention corporations such as [the Corrections Corporation of America] and Geo Group.

ITT reports that a vast majority of CCA’s federal lobbying disclosure reports dealt with immigration policy and Homeland Security and ICE appropriations.

In the Arizona Republic, Dennis Wagner offers a detailed reality check for those who argue that securing borders must precede comprehensive immigration reform.

“Anyone with a minimal knowledge or understanding about the nearly 2,000-mile swath of land between Mexico and the United States realizes that requiring a secure border establishes an impossible standard.”

And perhaps an excuse to avoid dealing with real solutions for what advocates call a broken immigration system.

Students create civil rights memorial in Marquette Park

Almost 44 years after Martin Luther King led a march through Marquette Park – where he was hit in the head by a rock – Gage Park High School students have created a civil rights memorial for the park.

It will be dedicated at 12 noon tomorrow, Friday, June 11,  at the Marquette Park Field House, 6734 S. Kedzie.

“What adults have talked about doing for 30 years, it took a team of 16-year-olds to accomplish,” said Gage Park civics teacher Victor Harbison.

Students spent two years researching the history and reaching out to elected officials, community groups, businesses and schools for support.  They’ve created content – including oral histories, footage of the marches, and photographs – for an interactive touch-screen kiosk donated by George Burciaga and SmarTechs

The students had an extended debate over the focus of the memorial, and ended up deciding the civil rights march was a vantage point to tell the story of their community, Harbison said.  The memorial is titled: “A Community Transformed: The Legacy of Dr. King and the Marches of 1966.”

Harbison points out that Gage Park High has “all the problems of a stereotypical urban high school” – high dropout rate, gangs, violence – “and the same group of kids were able to do this.

“This shows what high school kids can do.  All they need is somone to give them a chance.”

Festival highlights Northbrook film legacy

Northbrook, which gave the world John Hughes and “the modern American teenage film,” hosts the first-ever Northbrook Youth Film Festival on Monday, June 7, 7 p.m. at the Northbrook Public Library.

Hughes created a genre of teen comedies that took the concerns of teenagers seriously and treated them as people, as Roger Ebert observed following the director’s death at age 59 last August.

The festival will feature four short films by students Northbrook Junior High and Glenbrook North High School, Hughes’ alma mater, and two by a Glenbrook North graduate now at NYU.

The films include two award-winning documentaries, a comedy spoof of an MTV show, and a film shot in stills inspired by the 1949 film “The Third Man.”

A question-and-answer session with the filmmakers and an awards ceremony will follow. The festival is sponsored by the Northbrook Youth Commission.

School guards and ‘culture of calm’

UPDATED – Fifteen students, most of them from Orr High School, sat around a storefront in Humboldt Park last Wednesday evening, taking turns role-playing situations encountered by security guards in their school – and discussing better and worse ways of handling them.

One student, portraying a guard, watched an argument between two students escalate into a fight and then roughly subdued one of the contenders, who ends up in a choke hold.

How often does this kind of thing happen, the students are asked.  “Every day,” comes the response from several of them.

The students, members of the Blocks Together Youth Council, say they routinely witness or experience inappropriate behavior by security guards. In a survey of CPS students across the city, they gathered reports of guards cursing and insulting students; sexually harassing them; failing to prevent fights, and even instigating and initiating them; and using excessive force, including beating and paddling students.

Too often security guard misconduct “contributes to an unsafe learning environment,” said BT youth organizer Ana Mercado.  “Their approach leads to more conflict and tension.”

And while she says there are guards who focus on problem-solving over punishment, “it’s not just a few bad apples who are unprofessional, it’s a natural extension of the zero tolerance mentality.

“If you think kids only learn if you are harsh on them, if that’s the only recourse you have, then if it doesn’t work there’s nothing for you to do but go harder, and you end up beating kids up.”

BTYC maintains that one of the most direct ways to promote a “culture of calm” in CPS high schools is to revamp security guard training to include an introduction to restorative justice principles.  They say an interactive workshop format could help guards think through ways of reacting to immature and disruptive behavior in a professional manner.

And they’ve been pushing, with limited success, for a seat at the table as CPS revises its security guard training, arguing that young people’s perspective is crucial.

As participants worked through different scenarios – a student who shows up without a shirt, another who refuses to remove a hat – they talked about how to apply restorative justice principles, which were posted on hand-written signs around the room: the importance of listening, of relationships, of taking into account individuals’ needs, of problem solving, of considering the larger community, and of modeling the behavior you want to see.

BTYC had expected Michael Shields, chief of security for CPS, at the meeting.  At a previous meeting, he’d asked for a demonstration of how restorative justice principles could be applied to training for school security guards, and this date was subsequently set, they say.

But when Blocks Together called to confirm the meeting, they were told it wasn’t on Shields’ schedule, said Orr student Edward Ward.  When they inquired at the school board meeting earlier that day, Shields spoke with them briefly and said something personal had come up that morning.

Ward noted the discrepancy – if it had come up that morning, why wasn’t it on his schedule days earlier?  “We’re angry about that,” he said.

On one wall of the office hangs a sheet with a list of agreements including BTYC involvement in revising security guard training and in monitoring and evaluating trainings; and ensuring that training includes an introduction to restorative justice, discussions of the developmental needs of youth and the proper role of adult professionals, and an interactive format.  At the bottom is Shields’ signature.

Shields has since backtracked on several promises, Mercado said, including allowing BT members to observe trainings.  At the meeting last October where that agreement was signed, Shields also agreed to provide a copy of the current curriculum for guard training, said BTYC organizer Ana Mercado; to date, that promise hasn’t been kept, she said.

CPS spokesperson Monique Bond couldn’t address specifics of discussions between Shields and the group, but said a comprehensive review of security guard training is underway as part of the district’s anti-violence plan.

Misconduct by guards should be reported to teachers, principals, or the district’s inspector general, she said. “These are very serious allegations, and the only way to address them is to file a formal complaint,” she said.

“For young people there’s a lot of fear of backlash from security guards if they hear about a complaint,” said Mercado.   “We’re trying to deal with the problem preventively.”

BTYC has been supporting an effort to establish a confidential grievance process for students to report incidents of violence and harassment in school, a campaign being spearheaded by GenderJust, which has carried out a series of direct actions.

“Right now there’s not really a process,” said Sam Finkelstein, an organizer for the LGBT group.  “You complain somehow, maybe you tell the principal and if you’re lucky it gets acted on.  There’s no followup, no oversight.”

Blocks Together has worked on this issue for years (Newstips first covered their efforts in 2002), organizing high school youth, working to bring restorative justice to local elementary schools, helping to establish a peer jury at Orr.   With limited administrative support and resources, school-by-school efforts have had limited success, Mercado said.

Now she wonders whether the call by  CPS chief Ron Huberman for guards to act as mentors to students will be anything more than “lip service.”

Youth media summit takes on violence

A youth media summit on violence this weekend will exhibit videos by Chicago area youth, air views in two panel discussions and feature interactive media stations.

It takes place Saturday, May 22, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Roosevelt University, 430 S. Michigan.

“Wired-Up” will feature videos created by some of the hundreds of young people from 25 neighborhood groups across the city who have worked with Chain of Change, a project of BeyondMedia.  Launched in 2007, Chain of Change gives young people training and equipment to create videos expressing their experiences and perspectives on violence; they’re uploaded to the project’s website where others can watch and comment.

“The success of Chain of Change  has been opening up a dialogue across different neighborhoods, from diferent socio-economic and identity groups, who are all dealing with different aspects of violence,” said Simon Fisher of Beyondmedia.

The summit gives participants a change “to meet face-to-face and to learn from each other in a hands-on way,” Fisher said.

In addition to exhibitions of youth videos, there will be stations where attendees can create video letters or portrait postcards to send to policy makers.  Two panel discussion are planned, one featuring adults who work with youth on violence issues and the other featuring young people from Chain of Change’s leadership council.

The project is part of a youth media movement that is thriving in Chicago – and deserves more attention, Fisher said.  “These are ideas being generated by the people who are most affected” by violence, he said.

Arizona protestors released; Chicago students organize

Undocumented students arrested Tuesday after sitting in at Senator John McCain’s Tucson office were detained by ICE after their arraignment yesterday and later released to field supervision, supporters here report.

Meanwhile their goal of sparking further action may be seeing results here, with immigrant students from ten Illinois universities launching a campaign for “Equal Rights Universities.”

Students from U. of C., UIC, NEIU, Harold Washington College, Northwestern, IIT, Roosevelt, College of DuPage, and Elgin Community College will launch the campaign at noon on Thursday, May 20, at the University of Chicago, 5600 S. University, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights announced.

The students are calling on university administrations to sign on as an Equal Rights Universities and commit to nondiscrimination in admissions; training for admissions, financial aid, and career services officers in working with undocumented students; campus education on the issue and a working relationship with undocumented students and community groups.

“Undocumented students will bravely announce their status publicly at this event” and will be available for interviews, ICIRR said.

In Tucson, “the police didn’t want to arrest [the protestors] and didn’t want to turn [three undocumented protestors] over to immigration,” said local organizer Rigo Padilla.  “ICE took it upon themselves to show up at the hearing.”

Mohammad Abdollahi of Michigan, Yahaira Carrillo of Kansas, and Lizbeth Mateo of California were detained and processed by ICE on Wednesday and released that night.  Raul Alcarez, a native of Arizona, was also arrested Tuesday.  Tania Unzeuta of Chicago’s Immigrant Youth Justice League joined the sit-in and left to act as the protestors’ spokesperson.

Tired of living in fear and under constant limitations, undocumented students are “going on the offensive,” said Padilla, whose own case last year highlighted the situation of students who have grown up here without legal status. (He won a one-year stay of deportation in December.)

The “senseless and absurd deportation of students who have their roots in this country…only adds to the backlog in the immigration system,” where avenues for legal residency are extremely limited, he said.  “We want the DREAM Act to pass.”

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