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UNDOC_lawrence benito at immigration march

Colette Luke/MEDILL

Lawrence Benito, CEO of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, spoke at the immigration reform march on Tuesday night.  

Latino voters message to both parties: make immigration reform a priority

by Colette Luke
Nov 08, 2012

UNDOC_maria sanchez

Colette Luke/MEDILL

Maria Sanchez, 17, is undocumented and recently received a two-year work permit that would allow her to work legally, have a drivers license and Social Security number for the first time.

Colette Luke/MEDILL

Maria Sanchez talks about her personal experience as an undocumented immigrant.

Latinos helped put President Obama over the top Tuesday, giving him 71 percent of their votes. Immigrant advocates say that should send a message to both parties: make helping people who are undocumented the first priority of immigration policy.

There are currently 11 million undocumented people in the U.S. according to the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

“Certainly, you can’t address immigration reform without addressing the 11 million undocumented people in this country, “the coalition’s CEO Lawrence Benito said at a press conference Wednesday. “We need to address folks that are already here.”

Benito said that there should be more focus to match jobs in the U.S. for undocumented people, protect workers and make sure families who are dealing with deportations are reunited in a reasonable amount of time.

Under President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, commonly called “DACA,” undocumented people can apply for a renewable two-year work permit. This is the first time that undocumented people can work legally without fear of being expelled. More than 45,000 undocumented people in the Chicago, Joliet and Naperville area are eligible to apply for this work permit, according to Rob Paral and Associates.

Only those who were under 16 when they came to the U.S., are under 31, have no criminal record, and are in or have graduated from a U.S. high school or have a GED or have been honorably discharged from the armed services or Coast Guard are eligible.

There is, however, no direct path to permanent residency or to citizenship under DACA.

According to the Urban Institute, 65,000 undocumented students are estimated to graduate from U.S. high schools every year. Maria Sanchez of Glenbard West High School in Glen Ellyn is one of them.

Sanchez, 17, came to the U.S. from Mexico with her parents when she was a month old. She and her parents are undocumented. Two weeks ago she learned she had received her work permit through DACA. Now she can get a Social Security number and a driver’s license just like her friends.

“It was a huge relief and much anticipated,” Sanchez said at an immigration reform march on Tuesday that started in Chinatown and ended outside President Obama’s election party at McCormick Place.

Because Sanchez is undocumented she is unable to apply for federal financial aid for college. Sanchez said there is more that still needs to be done with immigration reform.

“Deferred action program is a step forward, but it is not enough,” Sanchez said. “We see each other as Americans.”

Chicago GOP's communications director Brian Matos said one of the reasons the Republican Party has been hesitant to support immigration legislation is because it creates an unfair advantage for those who come here legally and it could pose a national security problem by providing citizenship to people who want to do harm to the country. But at the same time, Matos said, the Republican Party should not always decide immigration issues from merely a national security perspective.

"There needs to be a delicate balance," Matos said. Immigration reform, he said, should provide a path to citizenship for undocumented people, but also encourage immigrants to come here legally.