Dozens of people attended a rally Sunday in Bensenville to call for an end to deportations in DuPage County and across the country.
The third annual Coming Out of the Shadows event, organized by the DuPage County community group called Latin@ Youth Action League, included speeches by undocumented residents who proclaimed themselves "unafraid" and "unapologetic." The rally took place outside St. Alexis Catholic Church in Bensenville.
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"We're trying to stop deportations that have been happening here in DuPage, but we want the message to reach the national level, too," said Addison resident Cynthia Brito, who led Sunday's rally. "There's always some fear when you start talking about being undocumented, but these rallies show that we exist, that we are members of the community."
Some of the talks were given in Spanish, others in English. Several speakers had to pause to fight off tears during their speeches. Audience members, meanwhile, held up signs that said "Families come first" and "Education, not deportation."
Stephany Ramirez of Carol Stream talked about the day she arrived in the United States as a little girl. Her father, who was already in the country, had secured visas for the family, Ramirez said.
"It was like waking up on Christmas morning and opening a gift, but the gift in this case was seeing my Dad," she said.
Life was good until Ramirez's grandmother fell ill back in Mexico, she said. Ramirez's mother, brother and sister traveled to Mexico to be with her grandmother. When they flew back to Chicago, they were not allowed to stay because their visas had expired, Ramirez said.
"I haven't seen them now in 10 years," she said. "We've tried to secure new visas for them, but there are money issues."
Ramirez, a student at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, said she believes the country's immigration laws should make it a priority to keep immigrant families together.
"I feel very strongly about this," she said. "That's why I took this stand today."
Michelle Lopez, a Berwyn resident who said she was brought to the U.S. by her family when she was 11 months old, talked about the psychological toll that her undocumented status has taken on her.
She said that after working hard to make the honor roll in high school, she learned that the universities she wanted to attend would not offer scholarships or financial aid to her because of her status.
Her dreams of being a doctor seemingly crumbling, Lopez fell into a depression, and at one point was suicidal, she said.
Lopez eventually pulled herself out of the depression, and she's now a student at Triton College.
"I didn't want to be just another sad story," she said.
Sunday's rally was the third one organized by the Latin@ Youth Action League. The previous ones took place in Addison and Wheaton.
For more information on the organization, go to loyal-dupage.org.