With nearly 46 percent of students in Proviso Township identifying as Latino, Proviso District 209 school board member Claudia Medina was disappointed to discover that the district lacked strong services geared toward assisting Latino students and their families, many of whom face a language barrier and are undocumented immigrants.

Medina said the high school district needed to spearhead new initiatives for these Latino students and their families.

“I started to hear all the situations that the Latino kids and their parents were facing in Proviso with the lack of sensitivity to a lot of their needs,” Medina said.

Because of this, Medina expressed her desire to start a program for these underserved students to fellow board members Ned Wagner and Theresa Kelly. She then started the process of organizing informational sessions and legal clinics for Latinos in D209 specifically geared toward families of students who arrived in the United States when they were young and are in need of information about eligibility requirements for their students to remain in the country.

The program is a collaborative under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) with the goal of securing required immigration paperwork for the students.

The informational sessions and legal assistance are being provided with the aid of representatives from the Consul General of Mexico in Chicago and Proyecto de Accion de los Suburbios del Oeste (West Suburban Action Project), or PASO, a community-based social justice organization located in Melrose Park.

The first two informational sessions were held in late May and early June at Proviso East and Proviso West and the legal clinic took place on Saturday, June 25 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Proviso Math and Science Academy.

At last Saturday’s session, Medina and volunteers presented information on DACA and the legal rights of undocumented students and their families. Representatives from the Mexican consulate helped sign off on documents and the first 15 families who arrived with all their documents received services free of charge. All families who came to the session received free legal counsel.

“The event is basically informing parents and creating awareness,” Medina said.

While Medina said the last three sessions have been successful, she faced quite a few setbacks before getting the program approved by the district.

“Usually events like this by any other person don’t require board approval, but due to the nature of the district, we needed to get board approval. We needed to make sure that everybody was on board because what I wanted was for us to ask for a safe zone. 

“Immigration is a very touchy topic for a lot of people, especially people who do not understand the situation of students who have to live undocumented. It’s a heart-wrenching situation when kids have no resources or recourse.”

Medina, who is the first Latino to serve on the D209 school board, said once constituents met her and learned of her heritage, they began to tell her their concerns about the lack of district representation and services.

According to Medina, the majority of Latinos in the area arrived in recent years due to the gentrification and rising rents of their former enclaves in Little Village and Pilsen. She said while community engagement and Spanish-speaking services continue to be offered in Chicago, Latinos in Proviso Township wondered why the district did not have similar resources.

“They moved into this area in a very rapid pace because rents are available for them,” Medina said. “The reality of the matter is the services aren’t here, or if they are here, they’re not in Spanish like they used to have. There’s a void and people feel like it doesn’t matter, but we do care.”

While many of the Latinos who approached Medina expressed their desire to have additional services, many are afraid to speak up in public because of their undocumented status or inability to speak English.

“Those who are undocumented don’t voice their opinion in a public forum because that would require speaking in public, and most people are intimidated to do so.”

Ultimately, Medina said, while the program should have been started when the district started having a high incidence of Latinos, now is better than never to have the program in Proviso Township.

D209 will be hosting another information session on Aug. 18 at 6:30 p.m. at Proviso West and another legal clinic on Sept. 10 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at PMSA.

They will no doubt discuss the latest Supreme Court decision affecting DACA, issued just this past week.

Dream deferred?

Ironically, the legal clinic took place just as the Supreme Court issued a split 4-4 decision which challenged President Obama’s immigration plan by keeping injunctions on deferred deportation action for children who arrived with their undocumented parents (DACA) as well as for parents of American-born children who were seeking solutions on immigration reform, also known as the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA). The Obama immigration plan had the potential to save up to five million undocumented immigrants from deportation as well as allowed them to legally work in the U.S.

Claudia Medina, Proviso’s first Hispanic school board member, said the decision was heart-wrenching.

“There were lot of people who had a lot of hopes in not having to be invisible and for having the ability to not be scared of being deported,” she said. “[They] have children here who are U.S. citizens that will not being going anywhere. They were hoping for a path for not having to live in fear. There needs to be path that if you’ve been here for an extended amount of time, paid taxes and have your family here, you could possibly find a way to legality.”

Medina says because of nearly 150 deportations in the Chicago suburban area within the last month, she will continue to spearhead initiatives to inform and protect those most vulnerable in Proviso Township.

“There’s protections within the Chicago city limits but there are not protections in the western suburbs,” she said. “So when you know that’s always a possibility, it’s scary.”

— Jackie Glosniak