Immigrant Groups Tell Illinois Governor: “We Are Essential”

by Joseph G. Lariosa

SPRINGFIELD, Illinois (JGL) [Update 4 June 2015]– Jimmy Reyes was an undocumented immigrant and had struggled to obtain his U.S. Citizenship so he could gain better employment in the airline industry and provide a better life for his family.

Now a U.S. Citizen and a volunteer member of Alliance of Filipinos for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment (AFIRE), Reyes does not want new immigrants to suffer the same fate that he had. He wanted Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner to restore state funding for essential social service programs, and advocate for the passage of the TRUST Act, which seeks to restore trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

Reyes was one of the 60 Filipinos who boarded two buses last May 21 to join 400 Asian Americans from across Illinois to travel to the Capitol in Springfield to oppose the imminent budget cuts that threaten the livelihood of immigrant families across the state during the third annual Asian American Action Day. Last May 2013, there were about 30 Filipinos on board a bus who joined.

The Asian American Action Day coincides with the Asian American and Pacific Islanders Heritage Month of May declared by President Barack Obama.

At the same time, Asian Americans also urged their colleagues to call their Illinois state senators to pass the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights or HB 1288 when it was not assigned a committee last Sunday, May 31st, the adjournment of the Spring session. They are urged to call their senators again on or before June 9th when the session reconvenes.

Jerry B. Clarito, AFIRE’s Executive Director, said HB 1288’s sponsor, Sen. Ira I. Silverstein (D-Chicago) will move the bill through a committee to a full vote on the Senate floor. A 3/5 vote of the 59 senators or 36 votes are needed to override the governor’s veto in the current 99th General Assembly composed of 39 Democrats majority and 20 Republicans.

Last Friday, May 29, HB 1288 was passed by the Illinois House of Representatives on third reading with a veto-proof vote of 75 ayes against 31 nays and 1 present in the legislature also dominated by 71 Democrats, picking up four additional votes out of 47 Republican minority.

Clarito said Filipinos and Asian Americans should seize the moment by calling their state senators to vote for the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights starting June 9th.   HB 1288 intends to peg the salary of caregivers at the minimum wage to benefit Filipinos and other Asians who are working as domestic helpers and caregivers.  The bill also seeks to extend “personal care or home health services for elderly persons, persons with illness, injury or disability who require assistance in caring for themselves” among others.


The House bill noted that “Without clear standards governing their workplaces, and working along and behind closed doors, domestic workers are among the most isolated and vulnerable workforce in the State. Workforce projections are one of growth for domestic workers, but the lack of decent pay and other workplace protections undermines the likelihood of building and maintaining a reliable and experienced workforce that is able to meet the needs of Illinois families.”

If HB 1288 is passed by the state Senate and signed by Governor Rauner, Illinois will become the fourth state in the nation to pass the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

The first Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights took effect in New York State on November 29, 2010. Among other rights, this law gave domestic workers the right to overtime pay, a day of rest every seven days, three paid days of rest each year (after one year of work for the same employer), protection under the state human rights law, and a special cause of action for domestic workers who suffer sexual or racial harassment. In July 2013, Hawaii became the second state to implement basic labor protections for domestic workers. In January 2014, similar legislation took effect in California.

During the rally inside the state Capitol,  Reyes said, “As a staff member with AFIRE, I get a chance to talk to many of my fellow community members who are legal permanent residents. I see their confusion regarding the naturalization process, and their concern about the costs of the application, but they still want to become citizens. Through the New Americans initiative, AFIRE was able to process 1,200 legal permanent residents to become citizens.”

Asian Americans Advancing Justice/Chicago, a leading Pan-Asian, multi-issue organization in the Midwest dedicated to empowering the Asian American community said:  “For some of us, these are our own experiences. For others, we can see Jimmy’s story in our parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. How would you feel if your elected officials didn’t see your grandparents as essential? What if officials didn’t see your family as essential? Your neighbors? Your whole community?

“We our essential. Everyone in our state is essential, and we demand a state budget that reflects that value.”


During the rally, Asian Americans told Governor Rauner that “We are essential, and that our state budget should reflect the values and priorities of the people of Illinois – that immigrant services, childcare assistance, health services, and after school programs serve the needs of Illinois communities, and must be maintained in order for our state to thrive.”

“May is Asian American Heritage Month, and this rally is a celebration of a part of the community that doesn’t always get highlighted: our proud culture of civic engagement,” Advancing Justice | Chicago Executive Director Tuyet Le told the crowd gathered in the Capitol rotunda. “This year we are down here to make sure that we pass an equitable budget that preserves services for immigrants, seniors, children, and teens.”

“We are here to make it clear that the Pan-Asian American and immigrant communities will not be used as a political bargaining chip while our people’s safety, health, and wellness are at risk as a result of budget cuts,” said Filipino American Lawrence Benito, Executive Director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. “Our coalition supports a revenue solution, and we will continue this fight not only as Asian Americans and immigrants, but in solidarity with all communities who are and will be devastated by the Governor’s actions.”

Radhika Sharma Gordon, staff member at Apna Ghar and Advancing Justice/Chicago board member, spoke at the rally in support of the TRUST Act.

“Nobody should be afraid to call 9-1-1 when they are the victim of a crime,” she said.  If passed, the TRUST Act would prohibit law enforcement from honoring unconstitutional immigration detainers and would establish statewide policies on law enforcement’s response to crime victims’ visa requests.

At the conclusion of the rally, community members wearing shirts that spelled out “WE ARE ESSENTIAL” led chants and marched upstairs to Governor Rauner’s office. Executive directors of Pan-Asian Voter Empowerment (PAVE) Coalition member organizations followed before heading inside for a meeting with the governor.

“This is the first time a group of PAVE Executive Directors have met with the Governor of Illinois, which is a testament to the organizing work done within our community,” said Tuyet Le, Advancing for Justice/Chicago Executive Director. “Governor Rauner heard our message, and we will continue to push the Governor and all legislators to pass a budget that meets our values as a state.”

Legislators including Rep. Greg Harris, Sen. Dan Biss, Rep. Jamie Andrade, Rep. Elaine Nekritz, Rep. Laura Fine, Rep. Lou Lang, Rep. Lisa Hernandez, Sen. Martin Sandoval, Sen. Iris Martinez, and House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (on behalf of House Speaker Michael Madigan) spoke at the rally to declare their support for essential human services.



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