Yesterday I joined hundreds of volunteers and thousands of immigrant youth and families at Navy Pier in Chicago for the first "DREAM Relief day" hosted by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) along with other immigrant groups, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) and many others. As anyone who has followed the new coverage in the Chicago area knows, this was *massive*. While the good folks at ICIRR had planned for several thousand people, they had not expected the more than 10,000 who arrived, including many who camped out on the pier the night before.
As someone who has done some event planning and volunteer management on a much smaller scale, I was very impressed that ICIRR, NIJC, and others were able to put this together in such a short time period. The entire "DACA*" program was only announced two months ago, and the forms were released less than a day before the event. Organizations typically spend six months or even a year planning events of this size, yet ICIRR was able to marshal a small army of volunteers from ushers to attorney, dozens of computers, *7500* paper form packets, chairs, tables, and a first-rate venue in 60 days. Not to mention securing top-notch speakers like the inspirational Tereza Li, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, Congressman Luis Gutierrez, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
I know there were some complaints from the participants who felt things were "unorganized," but I think the complainants might not understand just how ambitious of an undertaking this was. Yes, there was some confusion among the volunteers, but we were all doing something that has never been done before-- new forms, new processes, all in a massive space that has never been used for exactly this purpose. In a way, this was a giant experiment.
If the organizers can be faulted for anything, it might be for being too successful in getting the word out. Overcapacity crowds meant that thousands could not even be admitted to the event. Perhaps some would say that ICIRR was overly ambitious in hosting this event so soon, the very day USCIS began accepting applications. I don't think so. Besides directly helping several thousand young immigrants, the event showed the immense need for this program, and also showed these "DREAMers" and their families that they have many allies.
*Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals