U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-1st) touted his new American Right 2 Family Act in Bronzeville today, which would grant permanent residency to parents of citizens and children brought to the United States before they were 16, if the parents have lived in the country for more than a decade.
"We must fight to ensure that the human rights of tens of millions of Americans, among those who are born here and those who are immigrants — and their families — are protected, upheld and that they form a bright line for us to recognize and respond to," he said. "We are called to rise to this very moment and and to do every single solitary thing within our power to protect these children, protect their parents and keep these families together."
With Congress' term winding down and President Donald Trump's opposition to immigration, the legislation has little chance of passage in the near term. But the general election is right around the corner.
"I'm sure that President Biden would sign this into law," Rush said, "but we also know that we have to put hard and know that he understands that we don't want any less."
For Pastor Emma Lozano of the Lincoln United Methodist Church, 2009 W. 22nd Place, who has been advocating for the legislation together with Rush, the bill is a chance to spur the Latino vote in this year's general election. But she also said the matter is about fairness: the bill would bring relief to 12 million people and allow two million deported people to return to the U.S.
"Millions of families have already been separated and traumatized by deportation," she said at the United African Organization, 4910 S. King Drive. "Our families are no different than any other family, and we deserve to be together living without fear."
Fasika Alem, programs director at the United African Organization, said the issues would also benefit the African immigrant community in the U.S.
"When people think about immigration, Africans don't come to mind, most of the time. However, the issues within the immigrant community, particularly around being undocumented, is very much a big issue within our community," she said.
"We have people who are on the verge of being deported, from being separated from family. We have families that have actually been separated. So this bill not only provides a path for families to stay together, whether they're here, but also gives those who have been deported an option to come be reunited with their families."
Alem pointed out that thousands of African and Haitian migrants, including minors, are stuck in Guatemala and Mexico.
As it stands, neither the House Democratic leadership nor the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have come out in support of the American Right 2 Family Act. Rep. Chuy Garcia (D-4th), whose district contains the Lincoln United Methodist Church, did not speak at the Wednesday event at the United African Organization.
But Lozano, who has been condemned and protested by conservatives for her work on immigration, said it's important to build support for the bill now among congressmen.
Rush was not part of the last major attempt to pass comprehensive immigration reform — eight senators from both parties worked together on a deal in 2013 that floundered in the then-GOP-controlled House — but he took offense at the notion that he was new to immigration reform.
"I have put my life on the line for immigration, immigration private bills. I have marched in Congress, marched around Congress. I've been really in the forefront in this particular movement, so I'm not a latecomer," he said. "I was there before there was a beginning."
In an interview, Rush said his work in immigration predates his time in Washington to his work in the civil rights movement.
"I'm a revolutionary on all issues, so there's not an issue that I am involved in that I am not agitating," he said. "It should not surprise anybody that I am an advocate for the rights of families in these most difficult times, because I can see the major contradictions," pointing to the relatively easy immigration of First Lady Melania Trump and her family from Slovenia compared with the struggles of those his legislation seeks to help.
After the country's most dramatic social unrest and protest activity in a half-century, Rush said the country "is at the threshold of being a more just nation, for really having the courage and the commitment to bring forth into the public square what it means to be left behind, what it means to be left out and to put those (issues) at the forefront."
Segregation, discrimination and inequality need to be addressed, he said. Democrats are widely expected to hold, and perhaps expand, their House majority. If the party wins the Senate and Biden wins the presidency, action on issues like like gun control, police reform and stimulus, which have languished this year with the Republican-controlled Senate and the Trump administration, may be addressed as well.
"With the president, I'm an eternal optimist. I'm not even considering what it would be like to have a Republican-controlled Senate. If that becomes a reality, then I'll deal with that reality when it becomes a reality. But for right now, my hopes and my prayers are plain and in one direction, and that is that the Senate becomes a Democratic-controlled Senate," Rush said.
Asked for words to voters on the first day of neighborhood early voting in Chicago, Rush said, "Continue to have the spirit of voting as I am witnessing all across this nation, that I have gotten reports of."
Noting reports of long lines in the 18th and 4th wards, where he planned to vote later that afternoon, he added, "With this determination, we're going to change the future and the history of America."