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Newly-elected officials promise to champion immigration reform

U.S. Rep.-elect Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia speaks among a coalition of elected officials and immigrant-rights groups in Pilsen in support of making Illinois the most welcoming state for immigrants on Nov. 7, 2018. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Immigration-reform advocates met with newly elected officials to highlight their grassroots efforts in mobilizing voters around immigration issues.

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which hosted the event Wednesday at Casa Michoacan, 1638 S. Blue Island Ave., on the Southwest Side, sought to get a promise to push for reform and a meeting with them to discuss policy by January.

Top concerns for the coalition are reform, health care and President Donald Trump’s harsh immigration position.

Video by Max Herman

“I, of course, will move every bone in my body, use all of my strength, to resist the Trump attacks against our communities all over the land,” U.S. Rep.-elect Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D-Ill.) said. “Rest assured that among my priorities will be to fight to protect the rights of people seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border from Central America.”

Garcia said the efforts of community groups like those involved with The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights are among the reasons why he was elected. He received 86.5 percent of the votes in the 4th District, defeating Republican nominee Mark Lorch.

Garcia said it will be important to reach across the aisle to his “Republican sisters and brothers” to change the perception of immigrants in the country and the approach to reform.

State Rep.-elect Delia Ramirez (D-Chicago) said, “My mother carried me in her womb in the first trimester from Guatemala through Texas so that we could make it to Chicago and be born at Cook County Hospital – which is what I will call it forever.”

Ramirez ran an uncontested race in the city’s 4th District that covers the Logan Square, Humboldt Park, West Town and Wicker Park neighborhoods. She also promised she will work with immigration advocates by January.

“You better be sure to know that I will not only meet with you, not only champion it, but I will not sleep until every one of our family members in this state and in this nation feel welcomed and safe because they’ve made this country better, “ Ramirez said.

State Rep. Celina Villanueva (D-Chicago) said she has committed herself to immigration and refugee rights for 19 years and nothing is going to change. Her district covers immigrant enclaves like Little Village and the Lower West Side.

She said she wants to help make Illinois the model for how states welcome immigrants and refugees and will work closely with her new political allies.

“I am so proud of the work that you all have done,” Villanueva said to the room full of advocates. “I got your back and I will be there.”

Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Board president and a mayoral candidate, was also there to pledge to meet with advocates on improving the Cook County health care system, though she noted that no one can ever be turned away from receiving care.

“We have a 180-year-old health-care system that serves anyone that comes to the door,” Preckwinkle said. “Regardless of one’s race, their gender, citizenship status or their ability to pay.”

Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.