Immigration advocates celebrate election firsts, plan next steps for reform

Immigration advocates gathered Wednesday to celebrate the election results of their grassroots campaign efforts.

"I don’t know about you all, but I am fired up right now," said Lawrence Benito, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, addressing a crowd inside the Pilsen offices of coalition partner Casa Michoacan.

Amid cheers of "si se puede," (roughly, "yes we can") he listed their achievements, including registering 33,000 new immigrant voters, new strategies to reach Arabic speakers and the victories of reform-minded candidates they supported.

"When pro-immigrant voters get to the polls, pro-immigrant officials win elections," he said.

Several candidates the group had supported showed up to celebrate Wednesday, including state Rep. Delia Ramirez, the Illinois delegation’s first Latina in Congress; state Rep.-elect Hoan Huynh, the first Vietnamese American member of the Illinois General Assembly; and state Rep.-elect Abdelnasser Rashid, one of the first Arab Americans elected to the General Assembly in several years.


"For the Muslim community, for the Arab community, they’ll finally know that they’ll have a voice and someone who understands them," said Rashid. He won the southwest suburban Illinois House 21st District with 65% of the vote.

Rashid, who is Palestinian American, attributed his success partly to Arab American Family Services, a nonprofit that sent out Arabic-speaking canvassers and mailers in Arabic.

"It gave a lot of our community awareness of the local election. There are very few Arabs who do this work," said Khaled Khaseeb, who is Palestinian and one of the coalition’s 18 Democracy Project fellows paired with partner organizations to help canvass.

The group outlined policies they want candidates to pursue. They include expanding Medicare and Medicaid access to immigrants outside currently accepted age limits; creating a permanent state child tax credit that would include immigrant households; and curtailing surveillance by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

The 13 officials present signed a poster committing to pursuing the policies.

"We need to continue to be a leader and show the rest of the country how to do so," said state Rep.-elect Lilian Jimenez, who won the Illinois House 4th District with 87% of the vote, which covers parts of the Northwest Side.

Jimenez succeeds Ramirez, who won Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District with 67% of the vote.

Tears welled in Ramirez’s eyes when she addressed the room, promising to bring Illinois’ immigration-reform policies to Washington, D.C.

"We’re building on that work in Illinois and taking that to Congress."

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.