Chicago Youth Come Out as “Undocumented, Unafraid, and Unapologetic”

First posted at Gapers Block.

The idea is simple: young people getting together in front of cameras and onlookers and telling their stories.

Stories about their lives, their dreams, their fears–which all end with one phrase:

“Undocumented, unafraid, and unapologetic.”


All photos by Sarah Jane Rhee.

Chicago Tribune reporter Mary Schmich called them “American in every way but the paperwork”–young people born outside of this country but brought here as children. Many call themselves DREAMers, the potential beneficiaries of the DREAM Act, the proposed legislation that would provide legalization to young people brought here as children by their parents that failed in the Senate last year.

Hundreds of such youth and their supporters gathered in Daley Plaza yesterday to out themselves to the world as undocumented and to demand the chance to become full U.S. citizens.

The Immigrant Youth Justice League held its first “coming out” rally last year, when eight undocumented youths stood in front of television cameras and hundreds of onlookers to proclaim they were “undocumented and unafraid.” This year, after a separate group, the Moratorium on Deportations Campaign, marched from Union Park to Daley Plaza, almost twice that many young people took the stage to out themselves as youth without legal status in this country.

The first to speak in this year’s rally was Alaa Mukahhal, a 24-year-old Kuwaiti-born Palestinian who has been in the U.S. since she was 7. When she finished her impassioned speech–ending, as did all other speakers, with the proclamation that she was “undocumented, unafraid, and unapologetic”–multiple members of the crowd visibly blinked away tears.

After the rally, Mukahhal spoke with Gapers Block.

Also at the rally was IYJL member Rigo Padilla, 23. He explained the group’s past and present strategies.

“For the last year, we pushed national legislation. But now, with such an anti-immigrant congress, we need to push locally,” he said. “We need a safe space for undocumented students in both Chicago and Illinois.”

Padilla barely escaped deportation in 2009, when he was arrested for a DUI in which no one was hurt. A national campaign demanding the Obama administration rescind his deportation order eventually won Padilla–who recently graduated from UIC with honors and has a long history of community activism–a stayed deportation.

He stressed the importance of coming out as undocumented young people.

“The politicians are not going to change the situation–we have to come out, and be unapologetic about it.”

National immigration reform is all but impossible this year, but Padilla discussed potential local legislation IYJL will be pushing. On the campaign trail this year, Mayor-Elect Rahm Emanuel proposed what he called a Chicago version of the DREAM Act (although IYJL member Tania Unzueta said in January that the proposal “felt dirty,” given what many claim is Emanuel’s history of holding back immigration reform).

Whatever national or local legislation is proposed in the near future, these undocumented young people are not going anywhere. If yesterday’s rally is any indication, they will only grow louder and more unabashed about their lack of legal of status and desire to become full citizens of the only country they have known for the majority of their lives.

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