Undocumented Activists Receive ‘Not Guilty’ Verdict

By: Ashmar Mandou

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Local News

Photo courtesy of Sarah Ji (Left to right) Jorge Mena, Fanny Lopez-Martinez, Arianna Salgado, Miguel Martinez, Ireri Unzueta Carrasco, and Carla Navoa. In August 2011 six undocumented organizers were arrested for ‘reckless conduct’ during a protest against Secure Communities. This week, after seven months, all six defendants were found ‘not guilty’ of charges.

Nadia Sol Ireri Unzueta Carrasco, 24, Fanny Lopez-Martinez, 22, Jorge Mena, 24, Arianna Salgado, 19, and Carla Navoa, 22, received the news of their lives earlier this week. After being arrested for reckless conduct back in August 2011during a protest against the Secure Communities program, these six undocumented organizers were found ‘not guilty’ by Cook County Judge Peggy Chiampas.

“I’m glad that we tested the system, as undocumented youth, and found community support, said Jorge Mena in a release, a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago and organizer with the Immigrant Youth Justice League (IYJL). “However, Secure Communities is still being enforced and we need to continue brining attention to how it is putting people into deportation proceedings and tearing families apart,” he added.

Under the Secure Communities program, the fingerprints of every person arrested by police are checked against the Department of Homeland Security databases for immigration violations. Last year, Governor Pat Quinn sought to withdraw Illinois entirely from the program. Youth in IYJL believe a program like Secure Communities wears down public trust and prohibits undocumented residents to live normally.

After the verdict was revealed, the undocumented activists expressed elation over the court’s decision as well as disappointment over the length of the proceedings. “While I am excited that we were found not guilty, I was disappointed at how long the city and the state dragged it out without getting their information straight,” said Mena. Cook County Judge Chiampas declared that the prosecutors had not ‘met their burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.’

After seven months of court dates we won the case. After I heard the judge’s decision I felt that not only our commitment and courage were recognized, but also our movement’s cause,” expressed Lopez-Martinez. Prior to announcing the decision, Judge Chiampas shared she too came from an immigrant family and understood ‘the need for people to take actions like these in order to be heard.’

According to IYJL, this is the first action of civil defiance by undocumented immigrants in the history of the U.S. where all participants have been confirmed ‘not guilty.’ Other cases organized by groups around the country, most in relation with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, have resulted in ‘guilty’ pleas.

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