In January I attended L’Taken, a four-day social justice seminar run by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism that ends with lobbying on Capitol Hill. Two of my friends and I decided to lobby for immigration reform, more specifically the DREAM Act of 2017, because we knew that we had the opportunity here to speak up for those that couldn’t do it themselves. We also wanted to show our support for such an important issue that impacted so many people across our country.
At the national level, immigration reform this year has centered around the issue of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and the desire of advocates to make sure DACA continues to be a program within the United States. There are roughly 12.5 million undocumented people living in the United States and out of those 12.5 million, about 1.3 million of those people qualify for DACA. DACA was set to expire on March 5th of this year, with no plans yet on how to move forward. This leaves the 800,000 DREAMers (those that were protected under DACA) vulnerable and unprotected.
To focus on a smaller sphere let’s look at Illinois, where I live. It is estimated that 511,000 people are undocumented in Illinois. 307,000 of them live in Cook County alone, and 39,000 of them live in Lake County. That means that more than half of the undocumented people living in Illinois live right near me. They could be my neighbors, my peers, or my friends, and I may not even realize it. People we interact with everyday could have been protected under DACA.
As part of our lobbying with L’Taken, we spoke with the staff of Senator Durbin and Senator Duckworth. We also had the opportunity to speak with Representative Brad Schneider himself. In all the meetings we were met with reassurance that this issue is very important and that it was amazing to see teenagers speak out.
Once I returned home I was on a social action high. I registered to vote in February and voted in the primary, because we were told that registering to vote was the first step in making change. I also attended the Vernon Hills March for Our Lives event in March.
Seeing how fired up I was after L’Taken, my rabbi reached out to me to attend a leadership training for a new organization, Reform IL. My friend Danielle and I, along with our rabbi and other adults from Or Shalom, our congregation, attended this meeting to see what it was all about. I learned more about our state government and about the mission of Reform IL. Its mission is to empower synagogues and individuals to partner with diverse communities, impact local and state legislation, and do the work of tikkun olam – repairing the world – in Illinois. Reform IL focuses on the issues of racial justice and immigrant and refugee rights.
April 25th is the public launch of Reform IL at Chicago Sinai Congregation. If the topic of immigration reform or any other social action topic interests you, join me and other teens at the launch. Reform IL will allow us to have a voice and a way to make a difference in our communities.
6:00PM Dinner and networking for high schoolers interested in social justice
7:00-8:30PM Reform IL Public Launch
You can RSVP through the live registration link, or simply email our Lead Organizer, Julie Webb, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let us know if you will also be attending the dinner and networking for high schoolers.
Hannah Kramer is a senior at Vernon Hills High School. She is a part of Congregation Or Shalom and is a board member for her temple youth group.