Undocumented immigrants in Central Illinois rallied in the capital city Thursday, asking President Obama to use his power of executive order to stop deportations. The Springfield gathering was part of a nationwide day of action by immigrants and allies.
Ralliers propped up at 10-foot-high puppet of President Obama. In his cardboard hands, two signs read "continue separating families" and "take bold executive action," representing the two choices the group said Obama has.
The president has floated providing temporary work permits to some undocumented immigrants, as long as they've paid their taxes and have no criminal records. Executive orders could also include extending immunity to the families of "DREAMers," those who arrived in the U.S. illegally under the age of 16 and have lived in the country continuously for five years, and obtained some education.
One of those dreamers is Bloomington resident, 19-year-old Rubi Sanchez. Sanchez immigrated to Illinois from Mexico with her parents and three younger brothers in 2005. Sanchez says her family would benefit majorly from that immunity; her father was already deported two years ago.
She says her family was on its way to the grocery store 2012, when police surrounded their car, and took her father into custody. That was the last time she saw him.
After her dad was deported, Sanchez says there were some days she'd go hungry, as her father had been the primary breadwinner. Then, Sanchez and her next oldest brother got jobs.
To support her family, Sanchez works a part-time job cleaning office buildings, and just started going to school for computer science. All the time, worrying her mom might meet the same fate as her dad.
"Every morning I leave the house to school and thinking that it's probably the last time I'll probably see my mom," she said. "I don't know if I will get to see her when I come back. It's just a constant fear I live in."
Sanchez has a driver's license under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), but she says her mother could be pulled over at any time. Her mom has applied for a driver's license for undocumented immigrants, but it hasn't materialized yet.
Rally organizer and previously undocumented immigrant Jennifer Carillo says the showing in Springfield should draw attention to Congress' inaction on immigration. Congress had been close to passing an immigration overhaul last summer, but the measure stalled in the Republican-led House.
She says lawmakers' broken promises on immigration are not only hurting undocumented families, but also American workers.
"The immigration issue is a labor issue because if you care about having good working conditions, you can't have people who don't have rights, because then it's a race to the bottom," she said. "The person most willing to be exploited is the person who's going to get hired and be given more hours."
That's what brought Bloomington resident Bill Rau out to Springfield. Rau, who is white, says Americans' continued fear of immigrants is ironic, as immigrant labor helped the U.S. grow over the past couple of centuries.
"And what do we do now? We allow them to work here for 20 years and we no longer want them, we kick them out of the country," he said. "That's not fair."
President Obama is already experiencing pushback on the proposed executive orders. House Republicans, who have already brought suit against the president, may try to impeach Obama for overstepping his powers. It might be bad news politically for vulnerable Democrats in the U.S. Senate, as that party tries to hold onto its thin majority.