Passion was overflowing at Northern Illinois University’s fifth annual “Coming Out of the Shadows” rally. The event organized by Dream Action NIU aims to push back against rhetoric that tries to dehumanize undocumented immigrants:
Organizers say about 200 people showed up for "Coming Out of the Shadows" in NIU’s Carl Sandburg Auditorium. The rally kicked off with music, and even some salsa dancing.
Participants raised colorful signs with messages like “Undocumented. Unafraid. Unapologetic.” But activities struck a more somber note when speakers shared their struggles.
Sergio, an NIU student who chose to remain anonymous, says he had a dream.
“It’s June 2nd and classes are finally over. My family and I are incredibly excited to travel the world this summer," he recounted. "I have my black soccer cleats packed – ready to play with all of my cousins from Mexico. I have my camera ready to take pictures of the beautiful architecture and wildlife surrounding every corner..."
However, Sergio says this dream never became a reality; he says he came to the United States when he was two, but overstayed his visa and is now undocumented.
“I remember asking my mom when we would visit Mexico, but she sat me down on our living room couch and told us we wouldn’t be able to go to Mexico like the rest of my cousins because we didn’t have papers," he said.
Sergio says his reprieve came with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA – which President Donald Trump moved to terminate last fall. In his first year at NIU, Sergio says he’s wasting no time pushing for Congress to pass the Dream Act.
“We need legislators to stop playing with our lives and push for a permanent solution," he said. "It’s been too long that millions of others have felt that they don’t belong in the country. The time for complacency is over.”
Sara Dady is an immigration lawyer and the Democrat running for Congress in the 16th District.
She says she came to the event to support the cause. In her district, Dady says there are 1,800 DACA recipients. She says she’s also frustrated with progress on the Dream Act.
“This Congress does not have the will to pass any sort of immigration reforms that are going to treat people fairly, that are going to do anything to fix this system," she said. "And it’s this system, that’s the reason we have 11 million undocumented people in this country.”
Dady says people deserve an efficient way to get citizenship in the U.S.
"These kids need legal status," she said. "That’s what they need; they need legal status. And only Congress can do that.”
But in the meantime, she says schools need to take on a bigger role.
“And so the universities, they have a great deal of influence," she said, "and they should start using it to be an advocate for their students on the federal level.”
Laura Vivaldo Cholula, co-president of Dream Action NIU, offered some specifics on how the university can do more.
She says the university made progress on last year’s requests, so her group drafted a new list. One request is having an immigration lawyer on campus.
“It would be great if we had someone who was contracted by the university to be on hand to support us in these situations, when the laws change or a new court order is released," she said.
Vivaldo Cholula also calls for a $2.50 tuition increase per student for scholarship money, which she says could give five students a full ride every semester.
“At the end of the day, the biggest obstacle for undocumented students is paying for university expenses," she said, "because we don't get federal or state financial aids, and we don't qualify for federal loans.”
Vivaldo Cholula says she wanted to expand the message of this year’s event, which is why she encouraged “Four Poets One Mic” to take the stage. The NIU group is concerned about police brutality against minorities.
Darius Jackson is with Four Poets One Mic.
“This is not just the news clip of the day," he said. "This is real life. People are actually losing their children, losing their brother, their sisters, their cousins, their uncles, their family members. And they are forced to go and live life without.”
Jackson says the group felt it was important to bring this issue “out of the shadows.”
Isis Stephenson is also in the group. She says – ultimately – the message from Four Poets One Mic and Dream Action NIU is that no one is illegal, and they want others to understand each other’s obstacles.
“It’s okay if you don’t know exactly what it is they’re going through, but understanding that no human is illegal is a very big concept that a lot of people don’t get," she said. "And that’s our whole message – is that no human is illegal. And we don’t even know everyone on this campus that is illegal or that the government is saying is illegal.”
Both groups say they'll continue taking a proactive role lobbying for the changes they want to see happen.