October 2012 marks three years since a group of undocumented youth gathered at the Hull House for a meeting titled “Shout it Out.” What was to be a discussion inviting different undocumented youth to organize did not make it past introductions. That day, we shared tears, laughter, and togetherness over a conversation touching on our experiences, fears, and hopes as undocumented youth.
For many of us, it was the first time ever “coming out” as undocumented. For others, this was the first time being in a room full of others who shared in our experience. All of us had come to this country at a young age and were looking to figure out what it really meant to be undocumented. The conversations begun at that meeting went on to form the Immigrant Youth Justice League.
At our weekly meetings, IYJL has a tradition of opening with an “ice breaker” question. On Sunday, we asked ourselves, “What has been your favorite IYJL moment in the past three years?” Many people have replied with the first Coming Out of the Shadows Day, March 10, 2010. On that day, 8 undocumented youth came out in downtown Chicago at Federal Plaza for the first time as they declared themselves Undocumented and Unafraid. We have continued this tradition of “coming out” year to year and we have added “Unapologetic” to our ways of defining ourselves in order to respond to how we feel about our parents bringing us to this country. We will not apologize nor allow others to put us or our parents down as we continue to fight for a just immigration system.
Throughout our 3 years, we have focused our work on community education, political advocacy, leadership development, and self empowerment and mobilization. Our work can be seen throughout Chicago as we continue to provide workshops for students, school counselors, community organizations, legal practitioners, social workers, mental health specialists, and educators on the rights of undocumented immigrants and a variety of state and federal policy affecting immigrant’s rights. From the beginning we have used our stories, direct action, and civil disobedience as a political tool for change, and we will continue to do so. This includes the first civil disobedience in Tucson, Arizona pushing for the DREAM Act, to the action that took place last year here in Chicago, where six undocumented youth were arrested protesting the misleading Secure Communities program.
In April 2011, we helped found a new network, the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA) at its first convening in Atlanta. Afterwards, IYJL members joined other NIYA activists in a civil disobedience to protest the Georgia Board of Regents decision that bans undocumented students from Georgia colleges and universities. This was the first civil disobedience by undocumented youth in the deep south and the beginning of over a year of collaboration with the NIYA network.
While a member organization of the NIYA collective in 2011 and 2012, IYJL fought deportations, conducted trainings and “skill shares”, participated in further civil disobedience actions, and sent 50 Chicago-area youth to the June 2012 “Dream Graduation” in Washington, DC. IYJL members also helped to bottom-line the UndocuQueer and UndocuHealth projects with other members of the alliance. These projects aim to highlight the intersections of LGBTQ and undocumented identities while discussing the mental health impacts of the immigration system, as we worked to construct our own solutions to the issues.
As of October 2012, IYJL is no longer part of NIYA. However, we recognize that nationwide communication and partnership is important and we will continue to collaborate with undocumented youth outside of Illinois. At the same time, we will begin to focus on strengthening ties with other organizations of undocumented youth in the Chicago-land area, and throughout our state. There are undocumented communities in many parts of Illinois and the midwest, and we hope to be a resource for the growth of undocumented-led organizations in these communities.
As we continue our work in our fourth year as an organization, we hope to advance our mission and encourage undocumented youth to speak out for themselves as we forge ahead and continue on the fight for our rights. To celebrate our first three years and better prepare for the work to come, IYJL is organizing a fundraising event on January 26 at the National Museum of Mexican Art. We invite everyone to join us as we celebrate our efforts as the Immigrant Youth Justice League and 3 Years of Organizing, Activism, Building Community, Civil Disobedience, and Growth.