ADDISON — More than 150 protesters — many wearing black T-shirts that read "Out of the Shadows" — recently gathered at Addison Village Hall to hear the stories of undocumented families affected by deportation and immigration policies.
The March 16 demonstration was the second annual for the Latino Youth Action League (LOYAL), which formed in June 2011. The local group talks to high school students about continuing their education and promotes workshops through the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and other immigrant organizations.
Their "Drop the I Word" campaign also is aimed to end the branding of immigrants as illegal aliens.
"It's taboo to tell someone you're undocumented. You put your family at risk," said Jocelyn Munguia, a LOYAL co-founder. "That's why it was a hidden issue. People didn't want to talk about it."
According to LOYAL, DuPage County has more deportations than any county in Illinois. The organization was founded in response to ICE's Secure Communities Program, which calls for the deportation of undocumented drivers.
LOYAL member Liz Mendoza was 3 years old when her parents brought her to the U.S. from Mexico. Being undocumented was a dark secret that kept her family in fear.
Mendoza said she started the process of "proving her existence" when she obtained her kindergarten certificate. She's now the proud owner of a Social Security card, driver's license and worker's permit.
"I had so much stress lifted off me," Mendoza said. "I don't have to worry about applying for jobs or school. It opened up so many doors."
One of those doors opened at the College of DuPage culinary school, where Mendoza is majoring in pastry making. This, in turn, led to a paid internship at Disney World.
Meanwhile, Felipe Hernandez joined LOYAL in October 2012. He was 6 years old when he entered the U.S. on a visa with his mother and younger brother.
The CoD student spoke during Saturday's rally.
"I have learned and grown so much. I’ve learned leadership skills," he said. "I felt closer and stronger with other undocumented people."
Munguia was reminded of her status when she used her consulate ID card and it wasn't accepted everywhere.
"I couldn't get a library card, or take out books," said Munguia, who finally got her documentation last December. "It was a nice Christmas present. My parents were happy. But I didn't celebrate because others, like my brother and parents, don't qualify."
She was 11 when her parents brought her and her 3-year-old brother to the U.S. She also grew up in fear of discovery.
"You can be undocumented but unafraid," Munguia said. "That’s why we’re coming out of the shadows into the streets. The ICE will not stop us.”