Obama’s announcement expected to have heavy impact in Illinois

Data: The Migration Policy Institute
Data: The Migration Policy Institute

By Rachel White

If Raul Montes Jr. had his way, President Obama would have already used his executive powers to enact comprehensive immigration reform. He was anticipating, however, that the president would do that Thursday night, and would thereby help an estimated 5.2 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

Montes is a Chicago community activist and candidate for alderman in the 22nd Ward. He was born and raised in the community he hopes to represent after the February election.

Montes spoke at Yolanda’s Restaurant in Little Village Thursday afternoon about how the expected comprehensive immigration reform announcement would help his would-be constituents.

He is running his grassroots campaign the same way he advocates for the undocumented immigrants living in his neighborhood. Montes said he is knocking on doors in Little Village, a neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago, and registering people to vote.

Little Village is a mostly Hispanic neighborhood that has not been widely gentrified. Many residents have a special interest in President Obama’s reform announcement. An estimated two-thirds of undocumented immigrants living in the United States are from Mexico and Central America, according to a report by Pew Research.

Residents statewide also have a stake in tonight’s announcement. Illinois is among the top states that would have a high population affected by an immigration reform announcement. Illinois is the fourth most immigrant-populated state in the United States, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

“The president’s plan to go it alone would be something that would benefit many in the country and stimulate the economy,” Montes said.

There were an estimated 11.2 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States as of 2012, according to a report released today by Pew Research.

The chef at Yolanda’s Restaurant is one of them.

Leonardo Castro is an undocumented immigrant who came to Chicago alone in 2000 when he was 13 years old. He’s now 26 and would have been eligible to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — had he been more informed.

DACA has been in place since 2012. As of July only 55 percent of those who meet the DACA criteria have applied for the temporary relief of deportation, according to MPI. Many factors play a role in why people are apprehensive to enroll in the program, including a lack of information, the cost of the application process, and fear of self-identifying as undocumented.

Fear of deportation kept Castro from learning more about DACA, he said. He left Mexico and traveled to Chicago alone seeking a better life. He said the most difficult part about his journey was when he arrived in Chicago, because he had no family in the city to lean on. He said the hardest part about living here now is “fear of being reported to immigration.”

Deportations of undocumented immigrants reached a record high in 2013, according to Pew Research.

Castro is one of the estimated 280,000 undocumented immigrants in Illinois who would be eligible for the anticipated Deferred Action expansion and DACA programs.

“This is a country that was built on immigrants and we’re pushing forward to see if the President can announce something that will benefit them,” Montes said.

President Obama was scheduled to make his announcement tonight at 7 p.m. CST.