AVONDALE — Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa helped more than 100 people seeking U.S. citizenship complete their paperwork while working as an aide to U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-4th).
Now Ramirez-Rosa is taking what he learned from Gutierrez, the country's leading immigration advocate, to his 35th Ward office.
“The 35th Ward, more than likely, has several thousand people who qualify for U.S. citizenship, and we want to make sure they have a place to turn to in my office," Ramirez-Rosa said.
Gutierrez and Ramirez-Rosa hosted a workshop Monday to kick off the effort to help residents become citizens or renew their participation in the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability program for DREAMers.
The workshop was held on the first anniversary of President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration that created the program, but has since been blocked by a lawsuit.
Uriel Balbuena, a 19-year-old Northeastern Illinois University student who works and studies at the school, came to the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant from Mexico as a child.
He applied for deferred action to receive a two-year work permit and exemption from deportation about three years ago.
Both of his parents are undocumented, but he has two younger siblings who were born in the country and are citizens.
"I thought it was some sort of scam to get deported back to Mexico," Balbuena said. "Under the influence of the church, they gave me the faith to apply."
Balbuena is urging other undocumented people who came to the United States before their 16th birthday to do the same.
"If you qualify and meet the requirements, just apply. You will not regret it," said Balbuena, who commuted more than an hour each day from Gage Park. "Mainly the message is, Mexicans and Latinos can do it. Just because you are a color or ethnicity doesn’t mean other people can put you down because of that."
Because he did gather the courage to apply, Balbuena now has a driver's license, Social Security card and I.D. card.
"I get to show that I was able to put in enough work and give my siblings an example of what to do," he said. "Since they are citizens, they have more opportunity to help out other people who are not citizens."
Ramirez-Rosa, who worked for more than two years as a congressional aid to Gutierrez before running for alderman, hopes more aldermanic offices join in the effort to help constituents in the immigration process.
"It's one thing to say 'Become a U.S. citizen,' it’s another to say 'I’m going to help you become a U.S. citizen,'" Ramirez-Rosa said. "That’s exactly what Congressman Gutierrez has been doing for decades.”
Employees of the 35th Ward office have been training over the past two weeks and are now all capable of helping with both processes.
"I think we are going to set an example between my office and all of the aldermen in the 4th Congressional District today," Gutierrez said.
Monday's workshop, which was hosted on Northeastern Illinois University's campus, came at a time of intense debate over immigration issues in America.
"Between the attacks against our community and the presidential election, I think we have a great opportunity as the alderman and I have discussed, to help motivate people to come forward," Gutierrez said.
The congressman, whose immigration efforts were recently featured in a two-hour "Frontline" special, urged those with permanent resident status to take the next step and apply for full U.S. citizenship.
He pointed to next year's election as a major reason to begin the citizenship process for those who are eligible.
"Our rights for immigrants do not rest here, although Chicago has set a stellar example," Gutierrez said. "We have to set an example, we have to show leadership across this nation."
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