Undocumented youths try to derail Senate hopeful Mark Kirk

They can’t vote Tuesday, but some immigrants are going all out against the Republican.

October 29, 2010

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Chip Mitchell/WBEZ
Rogelio, 22, reminds his Melrose Park neighbors to vote on Tuesday.

A requirement to vote in the United States is citizenship. But voting isn’t the only way to affect a race’s outcome. Some undocumented young people in the Chicago area are going all out against the Republican in Illinois’s U.S. Senate election Tuesday.

Their motivation is a federal bill called the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act. The DREAM Act, as it’s known, would provide legal status to many college students and service members who’ve grown up in the United States.

The undocumented youths are upset that Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) isn’t supporting the legislation. They’re trying to derail his U.S. Senate campaign and get in his face.

Ambi: DREAM Act? Yeah, yeah, yeah! Mark Kirk? No, no, no!

About a dozen undocumented students have donned graduation gowns and caps outside a Republican office on Chicago’s North Side. Three others are staging a sit-in inside. They include this 23-year-old.

UNZUETA: My name is Irere Unzueta.

Unzueta says her parents brought her to Chicago from Mexico at age 6. She’s graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Now she wants a master’s in engineering. But she’s not a legal resident so doesn’t qualify for most financial aid.

Unzueta says she and the others aren’t leaving the Republican office until Kirk agrees to meet with them.

UNZUETA: Him saying that he is going to want to push for a lot more border security -- border enforcement -- before anything positive is really passed, I just think, is a really bad idea.

Unzueta says her group isn’t endorsing the race’s Democrat, Alexi Giannoulias. She says they just want Kirk defeated.

After four hours inside the office, police show up and the students leave. But about 10 miles away, some other undocumented youths keep at it.

Ambi: Walking through fallen leaves.

MITCHELL: I’m going door to door through a Latino neighborhood of west-suburban Melrose Park. A 22-year-old named Rogelio is leading a crew of volunteer canvassers that’s reminding folks to vote on Tuesday.
Ambi: Knocking.
ROGELIO: Here we come. (Door opens.) Hola buenas noches. Cómo estás? Se encuentra el señor...
MITCHELL: He asked us not to broadcast his last name because he’s undocumented. Rogelio says he’s lived in the area since his parents brought him from Mexico City at age 6. After graduating from a high school in Northlake, he says he fell into a depression as he realized how hard it would be to go to college or find a decent job without papers.
ROGELIO: This is crazy because I’m undocumented and I’m doing this. And people are thanking me. Even though I can’t vote, the people are thanking us for doing this.
MITCHELL: Rogelio’s not telling anyone how to vote. But he is handing out some yellow fliers comparing the immigration stands of the U.S. Senate candidates. That flier suggests a big difference between Mark Kirk and Alexi Giannoulias on the DREAM Act.
ROGELIO: I really enjoy doing this. It gets me out of my depression. It gets me out from where I was at two years ago, just there home doing nothing, like a loser. And I’m not a loser. We’re not losers, we’re winners. And I feel like a winner right now, doing this, just getting out there and just informing the community.

We left messages this morning to see what the Kirk campaign and the Illinois Republican Party think about undocumented youths working against the Senate candidate. They didn’t get back to us.

But a local Tea Party activist says the young people are hurting their own cause.

WOJTOWICZ: They’re helping Mark Kirk with this.

Catherina Wojtowicz lives on Chicago’s Southwest Side.

WOJTOWICZ: They’re strategy is completely skewed. Mark Kirk’s weak base is with the conservative movement. If they want to come to the Southwest Side, I’ll give them a donation.
MITCHELL: Why?
WOJTOWICZ: It’ll help me. And Worth Township and the 19th Ward are Democratic bastions.

The undocumented youths may not have a good shot at winning over Wojtowicz’s part of town. But they still think can defeat Kirk.