By Marie Landau
IYJL member Miguel Gutierrez participated in the civil disobedience action that took place April 27th at the Immigration Detention Center in Broadview, IL. He was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, along with 24 other people, including 2 other members of IYJL.
“Immigrant rights issues don’t just affect immigrants—they affect our whole society,” says Reyna, a member of the Immigrant Youth Justice League who shared her “coming out” story at the group’s March 10 action at Chicago’s Federal Plaza. IYJL dubbed its action National Coming Out of the Shadows Day, during which Reyna, along with seven other immigrant youth, came out as “undocumented and unafraid.”
Organizing under this mantra, IYJL aims to reshape the way people think about immigration reform. As IYJL member Ireri points out, although there has been “fight after fight” in the struggle for immigration reform, we have yet to see immigration legislation that humanizes and empowers, rather than criminalizes, immigrants.
Shifting the conversation away from “policies based on exclusion,” IYJL’s strategy is indeed a deeply humanistic one. The group, which consists mainly of University of Illinois at Chicago students, began with the successful effort to halt the deportation of a fellow UIC student.
Since then, it has focused on networking with other social justice organizations. At its core, IYJL is committed to connecting the struggle of immigrants to broader issues of racism and violence against people of color, workers’ rights and LGBTQ rights. IYJL member Adam Kuranishi emphasizes that the group strives to create “an open, safe space for LGBTQ undocumented youth,” bridging a gap that, historically, has been between communities of color and LGBTQ communities organizing for rights.
Wielding a broad critique of the current immigration debate, IYJL is not only an impressively inclusive organization, but has a clear idea of why the anti-immigration movement in this country is so virulent. Nodding to the recent Arizona immigration bill, Kuranishi says, “SB 1070 illuminates racism in this society.” All the more reason why, he argues, to suture the traditional divides among activist communities and create a “collaborative, rather than competitive,” force.
Working toward this vision, IYJL conducts a high-school mentorship program, in which college students teach high-school students about immigrant rights issues—the end goal here is for high schoolers to then pass these lessons on to elementary school children and, at all ages, for students to bring what they’ve learned home to their parents, building an inter-generational network of information and resources.
Armed with youthful energy and a strong network of allies, IYJL members are hoping their future actions will create, as Kuranishi puts it, “waves of action.” Not content with just joining the fight for comprehensive immigration reform, IYJL is unabashedly “escalating the movement.”
For background on and news about the Immigrant Youth Justice League, visit http://www.iyjl.org/