August 26, 2013
By Ione Barrows, Community Organizing Intern
Chicago supporters of immigrant justice gathered on Monday to discuss the importance of immigration reform and its connection to women’s equality. The event was sponsored by Illinois Women for Compassionate Immigration Reform, a coalition of leaders in government, nonprofit, and business who are pushing for compassionate immigration reform that addresses the priorities of women. The theme of the panel was “Women vote today, their children vote tomorrow.”
The five speakers represented a range of different fields, from politics to education and social services and JCUA’s Rabbi Ali Abrams added a faith-based voice to the conversation. Each woman gave a short speech articulating the importance of immigration reform for their own work.
Julie Hamos, Director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services shared her immigration story and the bravery of her parents fleeing Hungary. She also spoke to the necessity of currently undocumented individuals and families having access to health care in this country.
Heather Steans, Illinois State Senator representing the 7th district, spoke about the importance of passing legislation that will enable immigrants to live, work and integrate into American society. Senator Steans’ district includes the most diverse zip code in the country, with 72 languages spoken at local high schools. She emphasized the power of personal stories, and encouraged voters to “uniquely reach out to” their legislators to remind them of why immigration reform matters to real individuals.
A Chicago woman named Maria and her son Rafael spoke about their experience as undocumented immigrants and the barriers they face. Several years ago, Rafael and his brother were arrested on a train and detained for three days. Thanks to the work of NIJC (National Immigrant Justice Center) and Senator Dick Durbin, Rafael’s deportation was deferred. Maria recalled that day as “the worst day of my life,” and expressed feelings of frustration and guilt about putting her sons in “a situation they did not choose.”
Rose Mary Bombela-Tobias, Principal of Global Diversity Solutions Group and Illinois Director of LULAC, shared stories of women who worked hard to build a life for themselves in the U.S. only to get deported and “lose all their investments.” She praised the women who were “path blazers and rule breakers,” and urged us to recognize women as forces of change: “we need to make sure comprehensive immigration reform is fair to women in this country,” she said.
Rabbi Ali Abrams spoke about the Jewish commitment to immigration reform, and why people of all faiths have an obligation to stand with their immigrant brothers and sisters. “This is what it means to be a person of faith – to do holy work,” she said. Rabbi Abrams discussed a commentary on Genesis that states:
God gathered the dust to create the first human from the four corners of the earth, so that if one comes from the east to the west…it will not be said to him, ‘This land is not the dust of your body, it’s of mine. Go back to where you were created.’ Rather, every place that a person walks, from there she was created and from there she will return (Yalkut Shimoni Genesis 1:13).
At the conclusion of the event, attendees signed letters to the Illinois Congressional Delegation urging them to push for immigration reform as both a women’s issue and an issue of human rights.