Elizabeth Cervantes has been an undocumented immigrant since she was brought to Chicago as a toddler nearly three decades ago. She had a simple, but emotional, question Thursday for Sen. Dick Durbin.
“We are tired, and we are lost. So you’d think that after all we have experienced we can take any reality we are facing,” she said. “And so I ask humbly, yet firmly for an honest analysis of what’s next this year for people like me and the thousands of young people like me in this country.”
Cervantes, 29, is co-founder of a non-profit for immigrants in the southwest suburbs. She participated in a roundtable discussion with Durbin Thursday morning in Little Village.
Her status as a so-called “Dreamer” under the program now called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, expires next year.
And she just wants to know, what now?
“And because I have to face a community back at home after this, I ask, should I keep trying? Should I keep working? Should I even stay?” Cervante asked in tears.
The Trump administration announced in September that it would end the DACA program, which was created by former President Barack Obama to give legal protection to immigrants brought here illegally as children.
Under Trump’s order, permits that expired after March 5 would not be renewed. But a federal court ruled in January that the Department of Homeland Security must continue renewing permits as the matter continues to move through the legal system. Rival immigration plans that would have offered protections for Dreamers failed in the Senate last month.
Trump was seeking a deal that would give Democrats protections for DACA recipients in exchange for funding of his long-sought U.S. -Mexico border wall, which would have included a down payment of $1.6 billion.
Cervantes, who serves as the organizer and co-founder of the Southwest Suburban Immigrant Project in Bolingbrook, was among dozens at a Latino Policy Forum discussion with Durbin. She came to Chicago when she was just two, from Mexico. Her organization serves Will and DuPage counties and helps advocate for immigrant rights.
Durbin has led the push to provide permanent legal status for young adults in the U.S. who were brought to the country illegally as children.
“Don’t give up. Don’t give up. I’m not giving up. Don’t give up,” Durbin said. “Your fate is in the hands of the court at this point.”
He urged Cervantes to renew her status as soon as possible if it becomes an option via a court decision. And he warned that changes might not be made without more Democratic control in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
Speaking to reporters after the event, Durbin said he hears stories like Cervantes’ every day.
“Well, there is hope. And Elizabeth here spoke to us about being DACA, and worried about whether she should give up and leave this country, the only country she has known. What a loss that would be for bright young people like her who could be part of our future,” Durbin said. “That’s what’s at stake here. The president created this problem when he eliminated DACA on Sept. 5 of last year, and he’s the one who could solve it. And if he doesn’t, the voters of America — 85 percent of whom are on Elizabeth’s side of this issue — have got to stand up and speak up in this election.”
Others provided Durbin with dire updates regarding healthcare for immigrants, like Esther Corpuz, CEO of Alivio Medical Center, whose clinics served 1.4 million patients in Illinois last year.
Corpuz said there are two DACA physicians whose permits will expire next year. She said she’s seeing fear in patients who are now wanting to enroll in All Kids, which provides health insurance for children regardless of immigration status or health condition, and a big increase in behavioral health needs.
“We’re seeing kids cut themselves. We’re seeing an increase in suicide among parents. It’s just devastating what we’re seeing based on immigration issues that we’re seeing,” Corpuz said.
Corpuz said about 50 percent of patients are undocumented.
“Kids are fearful that their parents are going to be deported,” Corpuz said. “It’s been tough.”