Meet the 21-year-old Undocumented Student Who Called Out Rahm Emanuel to His Face Over Immigration

Luis Gomez publicly blasted Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Rep. Luis Gutiérrez for failing to do enough to protect all immigrants facing the threat of a Trump presidency—and for supporting Hillary Clinton and “stale neoliberal policies” over Bernie Sanders’ campaign.

Miles Kampf-Lassin November 16, 2016

Emanuel and Gutiérrez organized a press conference Monday to reassure immigrants in the city of Chicago that they will continue to be welcomed. But not everyone was convinced. (Vivelohoy)

There’s no wait­ing for the tox­ic effects of Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion to take hold on the groups he’s threat­ened — they’re already here: The coun­try has seen a 250 per­cent spike in calls to men­tal-health hot­lines since last Tues­day. More than 300 inci­dents of elec­tion-relat­ed harass­ment and intim­i­da­tion have been report­ed, includ­ing a spike in hate crimes. Patrick Magoon, head of the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hos­pi­tal of Chica­go, says Trump’s elec­tion has prompt­ed a pub­lic-health crisis.”

"When I heard that Trump was planning to incarcerate and deport these people, I knew I had to do something. These people that I’m talking about, these are people in our communities, these are families, these are our friends. It’s important for me to speak for these people because if they deport everyone that I know and love, then there’s no point in saving me."

These dis­turb­ing trends have affect­ed women, immi­grants, Mus­lims, peo­ple of col­or and the LGBT com­mu­ni­ty alike. But the group Trump has most sin­gled out for tar­get­ing since being elect­ed is the undoc­u­ment­ed. Trump told CBS’ 60 Min­utes on Sun­day that his imme­di­ate pri­or­i­ty is to deport or incar­cer­ate up to three mil­lion undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants with crim­i­nal records, while the rest of the esti­mat­ed 11 mil­lion immi­grants thought to be liv­ing in the Unit­ed States with­out doc­u­men­ta­tion wait in lim­bo for what­ev­er his admin­is­tra­tion decides to do with them.

The fear and anx­i­ety pro­duced by the threat of this com­ing clam­p­down has hit large immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties the hard­est, such as in Chica­go. While cur­rent­ly a sanc­tu­ary city,” where immi­grants are large­ly pro­tect­ed from depor­ta­tion by fed­er­al agents, Trump has threat­ened to pull all fed­er­al fund­ing if Chica­go refus­es to com­ply with his immi­gra­tion orders. 

In the face of this threat, Chica­go May­or Rahm Emanuel and Rep. Luis Gutiér­rez orga­nized a press con­fer­ence Mon­day to reas­sure immi­grants in the city that they will con­tin­ue to be wel­comed. But not every­one was convinced.

Luis Gomez, a 21-year-old senior at the Illi­nois Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy, took the podi­um to demand that Emanuel and Gutiér­rez expand the pro­tec­tions of the sanc­tu­ary city pro­gram to cov­er all immi­grants, not just those with­out crim­i­nal records.

If uni­ty is to be achieved, you need to stop cat­e­go­riz­ing and sep­a­rat­ing the undoc­u­ment­ed com­mu­ni­ty between deplorable and DREAM­ers,” Gomez said. I demand that you stand for all immigrants.”

While expect­ed to sim­ply explain the impor­tance of the sanc­tu­ary city pro­gram, Gomez instead blast­ed Emanuel and Gutiér­rez for not tak­ing stronger steps to pro­tect undoc­u­ment­ed fam­i­lies, and for sup­port­ing Hillary Clin­ton over Bernie Sanders in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic primary.

We’re in this cri­sis because of peo­ple like Rep. Gutiér­rez and May­or Emanuel, who’ve endorsed a can­di­date who has alien­at­ed the work­ing class, my com­mu­ni­ty, through your stale neolib­er­al poli­cies,” Gomez said. If you and your par­ty do not take bold lead­er­ship, you will inevitably fail to fight against Trump and his policies.” 

In These Times reached Gomez by phone the day after his state­ment to dis­cuss why he called out the Demo­c­ra­t­ic may­or and con­gress­man, and what his plans are to keep up the fight for immi­grants’ rights after Trump takes office.

Can you intro­duce yourself?

My name is Luis Gomez and I go to the Illi­nois Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy. I’m in my forth year study­ing bio­chem­istry, and I’m undoc­u­ment­ed. I came to this coun­try when I was 11 years old, and I’ve been liv­ing in the Chicagoland area ever since.

How did you become involved in activism?

Through an orga­ni­za­tion on my cam­pus called Undoc­u­ment­ed Stu­dents and Allies, which I’m cur­rent­ly the pres­i­dent of. We advo­cate for undoc­u­ment­ed stu­dents and for poli­cies that ben­e­fit my com­mu­ni­ty and the school. I also work with Chica­go Stu­dent Action, the stu­dent branch of the People’s Lobby.

Through doing this work at my school we’ve been able to pass — with over­whelm­ing stu­dent sup­port — a schol­ar­ship fund for undoc­u­ment­ed stu­dents, called Unit­ed Minds Inspir­ing Innovation.

How are you, your fam­i­ly and your com­mu­ni­ty respond­ing to Don­ald Trump’s election?

Last Tues­day I was up until 2 a.m. hop­ing and wait­ing [to see if] states like Michi­gan and Wis­con­sin were going to go blue and that the Democ­rats might win. But, they didn’t. And it didn’t real­ly hit me until the next morn­ing when I real­ized the true impli­ca­tions of the election.

I have DACA, Deferred Action for Child­hood Arrivals, which allows me to work for a liv­ing in this coun­try. Under Pres­i­dent Trump, I will lose that. And my degree — I’m in my final year of school — will mean noth­ing when I grad­u­ate. So I can’t seek employ­ment to use the skills that I stud­ied over four years. And that real­ly — that broke me, a lot. My par­ents might lose their jobs. And if they lose their jobs, we lose our home. And then my par­ents won’t be able to help me out with school or any stu­dent loans.

From the greater com­mu­ni­ty, there’s a lot of fear of depor­ta­tions. From the young peo­ple, espe­cial­ly with DACA, there’s a hope­less­ness, because we feel like our future is slip­ping through our fin­gers. There are a lot of peo­ple who already grad­u­at­ed col­lege who are undoc­u­ment­ed and work­ing. They’ll lose their jobs. And they sup­port their families.

So, the young peo­ple are feel­ing real­ly hope­less, and many are on the brink of sui­cide. It has affect­ed my community’s men­tal health very harsh­ly. Peo­ple are very stressed, peo­ple are very wor­ried, because we know, because of our sta­tus, that we’re going be the ones hurt by Trump’s policies.

Could you explain why you believe it’s impor­tant for May­or Emanuel to make the sanc­tu­ary pro­gram cov­er all immi­grants, and not just those with­out cur­rent records?

On Sun­day, Trump gave an inter­view say­ing that he was plan­ning to deport or incar­cer­ate undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants with a crim­i­nal record. And his pol­i­cy pro­pos­al wasn’t spe­cif­ic about which kinds of crimes they would tar­get, mean­ing that some immi­gra­tion vio­la­tions could in fact become crim­i­nal, like return­ing to the Unit­ed States after you’ve been deport­ed. It could also include peo­ple who lost their way when they were younger, but now are in school — I know peo­ple like that who got in trou­ble with the law — and peo­ple who have been des­per­ate because of their sit­u­a­tion with no legal sta­tus and have resort­ed to means of sur­vival that are not legal.

When I heard that Trump was plan­ning to incar­cer­ate and deport these peo­ple, I knew I had to do some­thing. These peo­ple that I’m talk­ing about, these are peo­ple in our com­mu­ni­ties, these are fam­i­lies, these are our friends. It’s impor­tant for me to speak for these peo­ple because if they deport every­one that I know and love, then there’s no point in sav­ing me.

You need to pro­tect us all, not just the peo­ple who you deem as deserv­ing of being saved.

How do you respond to crit­i­cisms of peo­ple like Rep. Gutiér­rez who say that expand­ing the pro­gram would amount to pro­tect­ing drug deal­ers and oth­er criminals?

Yes, I under­stand that there are peo­ple who are dan­ger­ous. But the pro­gram that Trump is propos­ing doesn’t make a dis­tinc­tion between some­body who has not been reformed and some­body who has been work­ing their whole life to con­tribute back to society.

You also sin­gled out Illi­nois Gov. Bruce Rauner, urg­ing him to sup­port the bills SB 2196 and SB 22. Why?

Rauner’s words will not pro­tect me or my com­mu­ni­ty. Poli­cies will. If he signs these bills, he is active­ly reject­ing his party’s destruc­tive policies.

SB 2196 is the Stu­dent ACCESS Bill. It would allow undoc­u­ment­ed stu­dents to apply for schol­ar­ships at four year pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties, which we cur­rent­ly don’t have access to. If Rauner does not com­mit to sign­ing it, many young peo­ple who are dis­tressed would be pushed toward the brink. We need some hope. This is a way he could show us that he stands with us. Or, if he doesn’t, that he stands with Trump.

SB 22, the TRUST Act, would make it hard­er for pri­vate pris­ons and deten­tion cen­ters to be built in the state. With Trump’s rhetoric and poli­cies that would crim­i­nal­ize my com­mu­ni­ty, Rauner tak­ing this type of stand would make my com­mu­ni­ty feel safer.

I tru­ly believe that it is not enough to have Chica­go as a sanc­tu­ary city, we need to have the entire state of Illi­nois. Undoc­u­ment­ed peo­ple don’t just live here; they live out­side of the city too.

You crit­i­cized Emanuel and Gutiér­rez for sup­port­ing Hillary Clin­ton in the pri­ma­ry. Do you think Bernie Sanders would have been bet­ter posi­tioned to take on Trump on issues like immigration?

Yes, I def­i­nite­ly think he would have been a bet­ter can­di­date. The Amer­i­can elec­torate said they were tired of the sta­tus quo, and when some­one who was dif­fer­ent came for­ward, even when it was for the wrong rea­sons, they believed it.

Hillary didn’t even men­tion that we need to stop the con­struc­tion of new immi­grant deten­tion cen­ters. Before she announced her can­di­da­cy, she said that we need to deport the young chil­dren who came from Cen­tral Amer­i­ca back as refugees, where­as Bernie firm­ly stood by them, and by all of my community.

She, as much as Rahm and Gutiér­rez, has divid­ed my com­mu­ni­ty into good immi­grants and bad immi­grants, into those who can be saved, and those who will be left behind.

You said lead­ers in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty need to start tak­ing bold lead­er­ship.” What would this look like?

The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty nev­er set out a bold vision — for work­ers, for any­one except the cor­po­ratists who donate to their campaign.

Peo­ple need to ask for things that we’ve nev­er asked for. Stop being polit­i­cal­ly safe and ask for more — and push for more. We need to ask for what we real­ly want and what we real­ly need, rather than say­ing this won’t pass” or this isn’t pos­si­ble.” The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty said that Bernie is not elec­table, but Hillary is. Well, look what hap­pened on Tuesday.

What do you see as your next steps to fight against Trump?

We need to push peo­ple like Rauner, Gutiér­rez and Emanuel to sup­port all immi­grants. That means flip­ping the script. Flood­ing their phones at their offices, demand­ing they sup­port leg­is­la­tion that will actu­al­ly pro­tect us, rather than just say­ing it.

It also means going under­ground and try­ing to stop depor­ta­tions — put our bod­ies on the line and get arrest­ed so that my com­mu­ni­ty gets to stay here.

Watch video of Gomez’ state­ment here.

Miles Kampf-Lassin, a grad­u­ate of New York Uni­ver­si­ty’s Gal­latin School in Delib­er­a­tive Democ­ra­cy and Glob­al­iza­tion, is a Web Edi­tor at In These Times. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @MilesKLassin

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