ECC panel, undocumented students talk about challenges

 
 
Updated 10/13/2017 6:58 PM
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  • Elgin Community College student Anna Rojas talked about her experience being an undocumented immigrant under DACA protection Friday during a discussion addressing changes to immigration laws affecting students like herself at the college.

      Elgin Community College student Anna Rojas talked about her experience being an undocumented immigrant under DACA protection Friday during a discussion addressing changes to immigration laws affecting students like herself at the college. Madhu Krishnamurthy | Staff Photographer

  • A panel of speakers, from left, state Sen. Cristina Castro, state Rep. Anna Moeller, Elgin immigration attorney Shirley Sadjadi, and Elgin Community College professor Clark Hallpike, addresses changes to immigration laws affecting undocumented students at the college Friday. Immigrants who enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program are also known as "Dreamers."

      A panel of speakers, from left, state Sen. Cristina Castro, state Rep. Anna Moeller, Elgin immigration attorney Shirley Sadjadi, and Elgin Community College professor Clark Hallpike, addresses changes to immigration laws affecting undocumented students at the college Friday. Immigrants who enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program are also known as "Dreamers." Madhu Krishnamurthy | Staff Photographer

  • Elgin immigration attorney Shirley Sadjadi answers questions from audience members after a panel discussion Friday at Elgin Community College on changes to immigration laws affecting undocumented students at the college.

      Elgin immigration attorney Shirley Sadjadi answers questions from audience members after a panel discussion Friday at Elgin Community College on changes to immigration laws affecting undocumented students at the college. Madhu Krishnamurthy | Staff Photographer

Throughout her childhood, Anna Rojas was told to pretend to be a legal resident of the United States.

Rojas is among hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought into the country illegally as children who were protected under President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

President Donald Trump last month announced he was ending the program, giving Congress six months to create a replacement before participants' work permits would begin to expire.

"One of my concerns is not going back into the shadows," said Rojas, 20, a full-time student studying business at Elgin Community College, from where she hopes to graduate this spring. "I found my voice thanks to ECC."

Rojas spoke Friday before a panel discussion on what it means to be a DACA participant, organized as part of Latinx Heritage Month. ("Latinx" is a gender-neutral equivalent to "Latino" or "Latina.") She said she wants to push for legislative immigration reform. Last spring, Rojas was part of an immigration panel organized by Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, and she also went to Springfield to lobby for protections for undocumented immigrants.

The Dream Act of 2017, if enacted, would grant lawful permanent resident status to anyone in the country illegally, including DACA participants, who first came to the United States as a minor, has been in the country continuously for four years before the bill's passage, and meets other criteria relating to criminal convictions, educational achievement and more.

Though ECC officials could not confirm the number of DACA applicants on campus, a few undocumented students shared their stories Friday.

A panel including state lawmakers and immigration advocates also addressed changes to immigration laws, proposed legislation affecting DACA participants and ways to support students living in the country without legal permission. Among the challenges students face are limited career opportunities and living in fear of deportation, which can affect their mental health, advocates say.

State Sen. Cristina Castro, a Democrat representing the 22nd District, said it's important for students to share their stories so lawmakers understand DACA's effects.

Illinois has the third-largest population of DACA applicants in the nation. Several measures are in the works in the General Assembly to extend protections to them.

The Trust Act, signed into law by Gov. Bruce Rauner in August, prohibits law enforcement officials from detaining anyone based on immigration status or transferring such a person into the custody of immigration authorities without a warrant issued by a judge.

"Here in Elgin, we have taken that approach for a very long time," said state Rep. Anna Moeller, an Elgin Democrat. "Local police cannot stop or search anyone based on their immigration status."

Elgin immigration attorney Shirley Sadjadi, who has represented DACA applicants, urged students to keep their driver's licenses current or to apply for a temporary visitor driver's license, which is available to undocumented residents without a Social Security number. She advised students to stay out of trouble.

"There is no reason to live in fear," she said, adding those detained should demand a hearing before an immigration judge. "They can't touch people unless they call attention to themselves."

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