October 16th marked Immigration Democracy Day for voters and volunteers. Asian, Latino, Polish, Muslim residents and their supporters learned about political participation, heard from their future leaders, and finally, put knowledge into action by early voting. The New American Democracy Project, an initiative by the Illinois Coalition on immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), of which CAIR-Chicago is one of 140 member organizations, sponsored the day.
The day commenced with training for Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV) volunteers and NADP fellows led by Ben Goldfarb of Wellstone Action. The training covered the importance of engaging the various minority communities in turning out to vote on Election Day. The NADP fellows organized their volunteers and developed plans of action to be well prepared for the final days leading up to the mid-term elections.
Attendees demonstrated their solidarity by chanting, “We are America!” and other invigorating slogans as they walked to the Candidates Forum at the Thompson Center, the Chicago site for Illinois government at 100 W. Randolph St.
The forum highlighted the “One nation, One Dream” campaign, which supports the DREAM Act that ensures a path to citizenship for the 14 million undocumented immigrants and refugees. The forum opened with DREAMers, young people who live in the U.S. but are not allowed to work or have access to other rights and services because of their undocumented status.
Alaa, a Palestinian Muslim refugee whose full name is withheld for protection, shared her personal story of being an undocumented immigrant who lives her life everyday with uncertainty. She highlighted the unfair treatment undocumented individuals experience. In her case, Alaa earned her B.A. in Architecture at the University of Illinois but cannot pursue job opportunities. Alaa noted the only difference between her and the “other” person who can find work is documentation, not qualification.
Following Alaa and other immigrant and refugees who shared similar stories, senatorial candidate Alexi Giannoulias, and gubernatorial candidate Governor Pat Quinn answered questions important to the immigrant and refugee communities.
Both are from the Democratic Party. Republican candidates State Senator Bill Brady for Governor and U.S. Representative Mark Kirk for the U.S. Senate were both invited but did not attend.
Giannoulias expressed his support for the DREAM Act as a “responsible path to citizenship.” He also expressed his strong belief in religious freedom in America when asked about the recent New York mosque controversy.
Gov. Quinn responded to critical concerns of Chicago minorities regarding re-districting schemes, which he said he would not allow because it would decrease minority representation. He reasserted his view that minorities, like other citizens, had a “God-given right to vote.”
While Brady did not attend, his representative read a message to the fully packed room. The day ended with attendees who were registered to vote marching to the Board of Elections to take advantage of early voting.