While attending Whitney Young Magnet High School on the Near West Side in 2004, Ireri Unzueta Carrasco heard about a promising candidate for U.S. Senate, Barack Obama.
Unzueta Carrasco volunteered to campaign for him. Maybe Obama’s campaign team didn’t know or didn’t care that Unzueta Carrasco is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. They welcomed her.
Unzueta Carrasco soon took on another mission with her sister, Tania. They began organizing rallies for immigration reform and were among the first young Chicagoans to come out of the shadows about their undocumented status.
Their mantra became, and remains, undocumented and unafraid. They have participated in peaceful rallies in Chicago, Washington D.C., and North Carolina at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Sometimes their group blocked traffic and they were arrested. Charges always were dropped, Unzueta Carrasco’s lawyers point out.
Now the government is using the arrests against her. When she applied for renewal for protection under President Obama’s deferred deportation program for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, which is known as DACA, her application was rejected by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Citing her record of protesting and so-called “reckless” conduct, they say she is a threat to public safety, according to a federal lawsuit her lawyers filed this week against Citizenship and Immigration Services, the director of its Texas-based offices and the Department of Homeland Security.
The government is full of contradictions. Its website on DACA says threats to public safety include, but are not limited to, gang membership, participation in criminal activities and participation in activities that threaten the U.S.
Unzueta Carrasco is far from involved in any of those things. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois-Chicago, where she received honors. More than 500 professors across the U.S., including some from UIC, are lobbying the government on her behalf. She has worked with After School Matters, which offers job training to students. This is the same person who volunteered for Obama.
But she also has that record of peaceful protests. She and her sister are credited with playing a role in the national movement that led Obama to order the deferred deportation program.
“She told me the activism gave her hope,” Amalia Pallares, a UIC professor told me. “It makes her feel she can improve her situation and others’ situations. It’s a form of hope and survival.”
But the price was steep and unexpected. Unzueta Carrasco initially got protection from the threat of deportation in 2013 under Obama’s program despite some arrests for civil disobedience, but has been denied a renewal. Her sister, who has a similar record of activism but a higher profile nationally, got a renewal.
It “raises the specter that they’re trying to retaliate against her,” Unzueta Carrasco’s lawyer, Chuck Roth of the Chicago-based National Immigrant Justice Center, told me.
Unzueta Carrasco’s supporters believe the Obama administration is sending a message: If you protest, you could lose your temporary legal status.
By going public, Unzueta Carrasco is again peacefully fighting back. “I’ve been going up against the federal government most of my life,” she said.
Losing DACA doesn’t mean she has a deportation order attached to her. But freedoms it had afforded her are gone. She can no longer work legally and already has lost two job opportunities.
Hopefully, before the lawsuit plays out, someone in immigration services will see the error of their ways.
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