It was only 7 degrees that morning. But even the frigid temperatures couldn’t keep away the warmth, couldn’t keep away over 100 members of the clergy who made their way to Federal Plaza. The cause, the urgency, the people were far too important.
Immigration reform has been important to me — and to many of the clergy with whom I stood on Feb. 5.
Five years ago, Rabbi Ari Margolis — now at Congregation Or Shalom in Vernon Hills — and I were part of a national delegation that spent a day on Capitol Hill lobbying for bipartisan immigration reform. A year later, in my Yom Kippur sermon, I spoke about the need for immediate protections for immigrants and declaimed then-President Barack Obama as the “Deporter-in-Chief.”
Three months later, I was able to thank Obama in person for protecting the lives of nearly 1 million children and their families through his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
The past year has seen DACA kicked around like a political football, with both Democrats and Republicans trying to run up the score like they were the Patriots and Eagles. But immigration reform is not a political issue. We are talking about human beings.
Two Dreamers I know — two remarkable young women — are willing, at great personal risk, to tell their story while they keep organizing and rallying for changes needed to reform our broken immigration system.
Jaqueline Romo, who is studying graphic design at Dominican University, spoke at the rally this month. “I think that many of us — not only Dreamers, but even American citizens — have dreams, and they’re the same ones. We’re all humans, you know.”
Romo was 2 when she and her younger sister came to the United States. “My mom brought us because we were fleeing violence in our town in Jalisco, Mexico,” Romo said. “There was violence due to drug wars, and my mom didn’t want that for us.”
Romo’s mother, who received very little education, wanted more for her children. “I think we’ve completed her dream somehow,” Romo said. “My sister and I are in college, and my brother is striving to go to college. He’s a junior in high school, so I think we have achieved the American dream.”
Erendira Rendon, another Dreamer who helped organize the rally, said her father came here when she was a year old. The plan was for him to work and send money home. But four years later, the rest of the family joined him. American life is all that Rendon knows.
But when Rendon first went to college, she began to feel lonely. It was isolating making new friends, explaining why she had no driver’s license or ID. Rendon soon shared her undocumented status with a new friend. In no time, she found herself in a circle of students in a similar situation.
Rendon began sharing her history with the public, then Congress. “It was liberating,” she said. “I was confronting a fear of backlash or rejection and realized that, if I shared my story, I brought others along to understand what it’s like to be undocumented. I didn’t feel alone.”
Rendon, now with the Pilsen community organization The Resurrection Project, helps provide training and opportunities for the undocumented community. She’s trying to give others a better future and remains hopeful.
“The support for the DREAM Act has always been high, even during this time of anti-immigrant sentiment and a president who ran on an anti-immigrant platform,” Rendon said.
“We need Republicans to stop obstructing and trying to pass legislation that uses me as a bargaining chip… And we need Democrats to have a strong backbone and not back down like they did during the government shutdown.”
Romo and Rendon fill my spirit with warmth and the passion to continue to go out and fight for them and thousands of others.
“I think we have achieved the American dream,” Romo told me at the rally.
I told her, “Now, it’s time for America to ensure that dream comes true for you.”
Seth M. Limmer is senior rabbi of Chicago Sinai Congregation. Sun-Times CEO Edwin Eisendrath is a member of Limmer’s congregation.