Chicago – Undocumented immigrants have won "a place at the table where decisions are taken," 24-year-old activist Rigoberto Padilla-Pérez, recently named to the Illinois DREAM Commission, said Friday.
"Rigo", as he is known, was one of the first members of the movement of undocumented young people, or "dreamers," who have lived in the United States since childhood and are championing the legalization of their immigration status and a chance to study.
His name was taken into account by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn this month when he appointed seven members to a commission that will seek private funds for scholarships to aid undocumented students wanting a college education.
"My appointment is an acknowledgment of the work I've done over the last few years. Everyone congratulates me and I'm very grateful, but I know the hard part is yet to come," Padilla-Pérez told Efe.
Immigration began his deportation process in late 2009, but the case fired up the immigrant community and an intervention by congressmen from Illinois helped get an immigration judge to suspend his expulsion for a year.
Since January 2010 his temporary stay in the country has been renewed annually, so that Rigo has gone on with his life, his work in a law office and his studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
His goal is to become an immigration lawyer with an activism far beyond what he can do as a member of the Immigrant Youth Justice League and the National Immigrant Youth Alliance.
The Mexican's work is highly visible because he campaigns on behalf of young people facing deportation, traveling all over the country and giving workshops that train them to be leaders of their communities.
"I teach them to speak with the media and to share their stories. I think that despite being undocumented, they have to be as visible as possible and not live fearfully in the shadows," he said.
He said that young activists have prioritized "the local struggle" in searching for scholarships and financial support, because they're not optimistic about the passage of the original DREAM Act that remains bogged down in Congress.
The bill would provide a path to legalization for tens of thousands of undocumented students.
"Nothing's going to be done during the next two years at the federal level because the House of Representatives is Republican and they oppose the law," Padilla-Pérez said.
He said that despite the words of (President Barack) Obama, immigration agents appear to have a quota of deportations and keep trying to meet it non-stop."