P.A.S.O honors immigration ‘Change Agents’

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PROVISO | Residents, students, documented and undocumented gathered Friday evening for the P.A.S.O annual banquet to commemorate its commitment and success to building stronger communities of color and connections with allies across the western suburbs, and recognize change agents for immigration protection and laws in Illinois and the United States.

Jose Antonio Vargas, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, who’s undocumented, told those in attendance at the P.A.S.O annual fundraiser dinner, that there’s much more immigration work to be had after Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the announcement last week President Donald Trump’s administration had effectively terminated the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program. “We have nearly 800,000 Dreamers who are depending on us,” said Vargas, a recipient of the P.A.S.O prestigious 2017 Courage Award.

Medina:  A woman of purpose and mission

Claudia Medina, a civic leader, P.A.S.O – West Suburban Action Project, a member organization of the steering committee for the Campaign for a Welcoming Illinois, founder, and the first-ever Latina elected, and handily, to Proviso Township District 209 School Board agreed, “there is much work to be done”.

Medina was not only instrumental in the district’s decision to provide extra support services for undocumented students who may be affected by the president’s recent decision, she was the driving force behind the nation’s strongest state-level due process protections against the deportation of immigrants.  “I called Rep. Welch to request a meeting.  I said something has to be done in Illinois about immigration reform to protect the undocumented… those living in the shadows deserve to be treated with human decency, compassion and equality.” Medina said.  The meeting was the first of several that coalesced state-wide immigration reform.

Welch:  Trust Act of Illinois

The Trust Act, sponsored by Rep. Chris Welch, 7th District, and co-sponsored by Rep. Lisa Hernandez, passed in the House 62-49 with 7 abstentions, forbids local law enforcement from complying with unconstitutional detention requests from the federal immigrations agency.  The Trust Act also forbids local police from holding people for immigration purposes without court-ordered warrants and forbid local police from stopping, searching or arresting anyone based on their immigration or citizenship status.  Welch’s landmark immigration reform marks Illinois as the strongest state in the nation creating a clear distinction between the work of local police and federal immigration agents.

For Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, the decision to sign the bill did not come easy, yet he conceded the Trust Act is a “very important law”.  In an interview with West Suburban Journal Rauner said, “There are people who didn’t want me to sign the bill, many people,” Rauner said.  “But I’m pro-comprehensive immigration, and have been my entire life”.

Estela Vara, activist and community leader, P.A.S.O, spoke of the Trust Act at Friday’s banquet, “I feel safer and more confident in my community and for my friends and loved ones, when I know interacting with law enforcement won’t end in exploitation or deportation,”

“By passing this law, our leaders are showing the nation that Illinois believes in upholding the civil and constitutional right for everyone,” Welch said from the podium.  “Immigrants are welcome here in Illinois.  The Trust Act ensures that a person’s immigration status does not place them at risk of being turned over to immigration authorities.”

“The nation is watching Illinois,” Hernandez said.  “I’m so proud to support the strongest statewide safeguard in our country for our immigrant communities, who now more than ever need to be able to safely go about their daily lives, stop hiding in the shadows, without the risk of deportation,” she added.

Eduardo Munoz, an Oak Park resident, came to the U.S. from Mexico with his parents at the age of six. His story, like others, speaks to the inequity, shame, and fear of being undocumented.  Yet Munoz never lost hope or optimism that soon change would come.  A graduate of Proviso West High School and PASO, Interim Director, Munoz has been active with PASO since its inception in 2010.  As a fellow, working closely with local students, high school personnel, and local parishes to establish the DREAM ACT, a citizenship program, he was voted to its board in 2012.

“Over the years, I have seen and experienced first-hand PASO’s victories at the local level and state level.  The dedication and vision of PASO leaders have made an impact in the lives of thousands of people, including my own.  I feel a moral responsibility, a deep desire, to help and empower others in need,” Munoz said.

While DACA will officially end in six months, it’s now up to the House and Senate to formulate a solution to protect those, regardless of ethnicity, brown, black, and white, living in the shadows.

PASO 2017 Immigration Change Maker honorees include:  Alice Cottingham, Visionary Change Maker Award; Representative’s Emanuel “Chris” Welch and Lisa Hernandez, Unity Change Maker Award.

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