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Queers a big part of Chicago youth immigrant movement [1 February, 2010]

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The Immigrant Youth Justice League (IYJL), a group of young immigrants, held a press conference Jan.  12 to announce its support for the 2009 Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act (CIR ASAP) of 2009.

The group also announced the launch of its Web site (  IYJL has a large number of queer members and a couple of them spoke to Windy City Times about the conscious use of the metaphor of coming out as part of the group’s political strategy.

IYJL (pronounced “ejill”) consists of approximately 20 people who meet every week, but it also has 60-70 on its listserv.  The average age of members is 19.  IYJL first formed around the deportation case of Rigo Padilla, a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).  Padilla, slated for deportation Dec.  11, was granted a last-minute reprieve on that date, making headlines around the nation.  His case brought together many established immigration rights groups and grassroots organizers in his support, but it was especially notable for the large number of youth who worked on his behalf.  [Disclosure: This reporter, as a member of Gender JUST, was among those who participated in the organizing for Padilla.]

According to IYJL member Ireri, who uses her first name, the group’s members wanted to continue their organizing efforts no matter what the results of Padilla’s case.  Ireri is queer as well as undocumented, and explained, “people make assumptions about what it means to be queer, and it’s the same with how they make assumptions about who is or isn’t undocumented, based on things like accents and skin color.  When you come out, it demystifies a lot of peoples’ ideas and you’re putting yourself forth as a concrete person.”  She added that IYJL’s main contribution to the larger immigration effort is that it is a youth-led group and brings “a lot of new ideas, perspectives, and technology” to the movement.

Reyna Wences is also queer and undocumented.  She said that IYJL came about because youth felt that ‘the adults were doing all the talking for us, but we are the next organizers; we are the future work force.”  Wences said that the group’s future plans include establishing chapters at Harold Washington College and UIC; participating in a number of educational panels; and hosting a training session for the state’s immigrant youth at the end of the month.  This training will enable them to return to their districts and push their political representatives to support comprehensive immigration reform.

Originally published in Windy City Times, 1 February, 2010]

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