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Undocumented worker ready to raise her head, get some attention: Brown

When she was four years old, Rosa “Chely” Gonzalez illegally crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico into Texas with her mother on their way to join her father in Chicago.

In the 29 years since, Gonzalez has followed the credo of the undocumented immigrant in the U.S.— stay out of trouble, keep your head down and don’t call attention to yourself.

Gonzalez plans to break all those commandments Wednesday by joining more than 100 protesters who intend to sit down in the middle of the intersection of Congress and Clark during rush hour until they get arrested.

The demonstration outside the Chicago office of U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement is part of a stepped-up campaign seeking Congressional action on comprehensive immigration reform and demanding a halt to the Obama Administration’s deportation efforts.

For Gonzalez, though, this is personal, a declaration of independence from what she has treated for so long as “my little secret”— her undocumented status.

“I deserve to be here,” Gonzalez told me Monday in a definitive tone of voice that would no doubt only further antagonize those who believe she doesn’t.

“I’m a good citizen,” she added, the problem being she does not have citizenship status nor any means of attaining it without changes to U.S. law.

In some ways, Gonzalez’ story is unusual: She is the only member of her family who doesn’t have legal status in the U.S.

Yet as I’ve come to understand over the years, such intra-family contradictions have become commonplace in the nearly three decades since Congress last tackled the immigration question.

Her parents, both of whom are factory workers, became legal U.S. residents under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, also known as President Ronald Reagan’s amnesty program.

Her three younger sisters were born in Chicago, automatically qualifying them as U.S. citizens. The same is true for her own two children, a son, 13, and daughter, 10, who reside with her in the Back of the Yards neighborhood.

Her parents could have helped Gonzalez gain legal status long ago by becoming U.S. citizens, but only recently started the application process, she said, attributing their inaction to ignorance, cost and apathy.

Gonzalez doesn’t even qualify for safe haven under Obama’s version of the DREAM Act, a policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. She missed the 30-year-old age cutoff by two years.

That leaves her in the same legal no man’s land as millions of others who crossed the border without permission or overstayed their visas — at risk of deportation by any administration in Washington determined to carry it out.

But this is the only country she has known.

Gonzalez admits she was somewhat apathetic to her own situation for many years, not to suggest she would have had many options if she hadn’t been.

“I didn’t think I needed documents,” she said.

She found out otherwise after she and her husband divorced five years ago. He had been the family breadwinner. Forced to provide for her children herself, she found “I couldn’t do anything without a Social,” meaning Social Security number.

She has a part-time job through a community organization mentoring parents in how to help their children at school, but to make ends meet, she receives food stamps.

For those who would criticize her for seeking government assistance, Gonzalez is quick with an answer.

“Give me an opportunity to be here in this country, and I won’t have to ask for food stamps or a medical card. If I could get a job, I would not have to ask this country for anything,” she said.

Gonzalez said she told her family of her plans to get arrested in Wednesday’s protest. They were not supportive.

“They told me, ‘You’re crazy. You’re stupid. Why are you doing this?’ I told them you’ve never gone through the things that I’ve been going through. I’m the only person who has been left out.”

Some members of Congress, including Luis Gutierrez and Jan Schakowsky, were recently arrested in a similar protest in Washington, and there are some politicians participating Wednesday who may choose to get arrested.

But none of them have quite as much at stake as Gonzalez, who runs the risk of putting herself on the radar of federal authorities by being detained. She said she isn’t worried.

“The thing that makes me powerful is that this is personal for me,” she said.

More power to her.

Keywords: chicago, civil disobedience, demonstration, ICIRR, Immigration, immigration reform, lsna, time is now

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