The Collected Works of Dominic Gwinn

City officials and community hope to create more immigrant friendly Chicago

Posted in Politics, Technology by Dominic Gwinn on August 27, 2015

The following story originally appeared in EXTRA News, a bi-lingual community newspaper in Chicago, IL, on Aug 27, 2015.

Alderman Carlos Rosa announced the establishment of an Immigration Policy Working Group which seeks to analyze and reform Chicago’s policy towards illegal residents.
Photo by Dominic Gwinn

In an effort to create a more immigrant friendly city, Chicago Aldermen Carlos Rosa, Susan Sadlowski Garza and Ricardo Munoz announced Tuesday that they have begun working on a comprehensive immigration plan for some of Chicago’s most disenfranchised residents.

The Immigration Policy Working Group, composed of 14 different non-governmental and community organizations, will be working with the aldermen, as well as Mayor Emmanuel, to craft legislation around a six-point plan that will increase support for pro bono legal representation in Chicago’s immigration courts and to amend the city’s “Welcoming City” Ordinance so it applies to all residents.

The Chicago City Council approved the “Welcoming City” ordinance in 2012, which was designed to protect undocumented immigrants from being unfairly detained or deported and protects undocumented immigrants from being held for immigration authorities, unless they have been convicted of a serious crime or are being sought on a criminal warrant.

Rogers Park Ald. Joe Moore sponsored the original “Welcoming City” ordinance and said it was designed so immigrants will not be afraid of deportation when they report crimes to police.

The proposed amendments to the ordinance would ensure consistency between municipal and county policy, create more access to multi-lingual emergency services, establish a municipal ID for all Chicagoans, make deferred action relief programs more accessible and affordable to communities, and improve access to city services for immigrant victims of crimes and rights violations.

“Two years ago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel stated that he is committed to making Chicago the most immigration friendly city in the United States,” stated 35th Ward Ald. Carlos Rosa. As the Chicago Immigration Working Group, we share that commitment, and we’re excited to work alongside the mayor to fulfill that goal.”

Many aspects of the new plan, according to Fred Tsao of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, are modeled after similar efforts recently enacted in New York, such as a city ID that identifies individuals without necessarily requiring a fixed address. This can result in increased wages, and helping undocumented residents along the path to naturalization or simply purchasing medication.

“Chicago is a place that’s always understood itself to be a city of immigrants,” said Ana Guajardo, executive director of the south-side based Immigrant Worker’s Project / Centro de Trabajadores Unidos. “With a mayoral promise to make Chicago the most welcoming, a city council dedicated to equal treatment for all of our residents, and leadership from the community itself, we are ready to not just follow the examples of New York City and other places but to be a leader in best practices for immigrant integration at the local level.”

Chicago is currently designated as a sanctuary city, and does not allow local law enforcement or municipal authorities to ask about a resident’s current legal status. Sanctuary city policies have recently come under scrutiny from federal officials due to President Barack Obama Administration’s mandate that immigration authorities should not pursue non-violent undocumented immigrants.

This post is also available in: Spanish

Icebox Derby girls burn competition

Posted in Chicago, Technology by Dominic Gwinn on August 20, 2015

The following story originally appeared in EXTRA News, a bi-lingual community newspaper in Chicago, IL, on Aug 30, 2015.

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The Icebox Derby girls 2015. Courtesy of Dominic Gwinn

With fans, parents and local leaders cheering, and the Blue Angels roaring high above the city, this past Saturday, the second annual Icebox Derby Challenge was won by team Flaming Zing.

An academic and engineering competition for young girls with an interest in science, technology and mathematics careers, the race saw 30 girls ages 13 to 19 build and race electronically-powered cars made from recycled refrigerators around a pop-up track at the Field Museum of Natural History.

Sponsored by ComEd, and in partnership with the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago, Girls for Science, Operation PUSH and the Chicago Urban League, the 30 girls were arranged in teams of six. Each team was paired with engineering mentors from ComEd, as well as local university students currently majoring in STEM fields.

Instead of lounging around, the girls spent their summers learning how to work as a team while building their 48-volt derby car, complete with functioning lights, power indicators and gears.

“Each week, we found it easier to bond and goof around,” remembered Carissa Lehning. “The first week, we were kind of shy around each other; the third week we were caught dancing on video. It’s just about having fun.”

The race, comprised of three heats, required the girls to utilize the skills they learned throughout the build competition. After each lap, teams switched drivers after completing an academic exercise, such as assembling a bicycle, creating working circuit boards, inflating tires to their correct P.S.I., and calculating miles per hour based on gear ratios and links in bicycle chain.

Each girl was awarded $1,000 towards a scholarship, with the winning team receiving a trip to a technology and innovation camp at Chicago technology start-up incubator, 1871, as well as new MacBook Air laptops.

“The whole idea behind this is to raise awareness of STEM,” commented ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore. “Give the girls a hands-on experience project so that they can really take it out of the classroom and apply it. We hope that creates more excitement… There are no losers. They all walk away with a great experience and some scholarship money, and we hopefully sparked an interest in an opportunity in STEM.”

“At the end of the day, I get to say I built a race car out of a refrigerator,” said a gleeful RaMaya Johnson of the team Royal Burn. “Not every girl gets to do that, so I’m proud of that.”

Her mentor, Sabeen Admani, a student at Northwestern University majoring in Robotics, was drawn to the competition because of her own experiences growing up with her father and two brothers. “My Dad always tried to include me. Everything they were doing he let me do too, but I knew a lot of the girls didn’t have that same experience, so I wanted to give them that.”

“It’s been the most wonderful experience for all of us,” beamed Frances Lehning, the mother of Carissa Lehning. “It’s nice and wonderful what the kids have learned; they’ve had hands on experience… It’s not a bad way to spend the summer at all!”

This post is also available in: Spanish

Logan Square residents divided over Ald. Moreno’s approach to affordable housing

Posted in Chicago, Politics by Dominic Gwinn on August 6, 2015

The following story originally appeared in EXTRA News, a bi-lingual community newspaper in Chicago, IL, on Aug 6, 2015.

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Protesters argue in front of Ald. Moreno’s office.
Photo by Dominic Gwinn

Dozens of protesters clashed in Logan Square this week while calling for 1st Ward Ald. Joe Moreno to pursue more aggressive affordable housing options in the neighborhood.Moreno has supported big development projects like the “Twin Towers,” a multi-building apartment complex across the from the California Blue Line station, which some residents say will lead to mass displacement of longtime residents. Because of this, organizers from Somos/We Are Logan Square, a community group of residents concerned about the increase of large-scale development in Logan Square, organized a rally against Ald. Moreno on Tuesday evening in front of the alderman’s neighborhood office.

However that group was soon joined by Moreno supporters, though smaller in number, who marched ahead of Somos/We Are Logan Square shouting slogans like, “Moreno amigo, el pueblo esta contigo,” (“Moreno, my friend, this town is with you”), while holding signs up in support of transit oriented development projects, or T.O.D.’s, like the “Twin Towers” project.

While both Moreno’s supporters and the Somos/We Are Logan group had the same message of increasing the supply of affordable housing, their differences collided in front of the alderman’s office where heated shouts and shoving drew the attention of onlookers and police.

“My street used to be populated with families,” commented Logan Square resident and Somos/We Are Logan supporter Justine Bayod Espoz. “I used to know all the little kids on our block, you’d see kids playing outside all the time. If you come to my block now on a Sunday afternoon you won’t see anyone on the street. The rents have increased exponentially in this neighborhood…We have two or three developers sending us letters a week asking us if we want to sell our property.”

Kyle Smith was on the street watching the two groups march in front of the alderman’s office on Tuesday. He’s with the Center for Neighborhood Technology, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization that studies urban economies and environments, and said one thing he’s seen across the city, including in neighborhoods like Logan Square, is the loss of housing units.

“There’s been a movement away from rental towards ownership, and buildings have been torn down, converted. Two flats converted into single family homes, balloon frame homes being torn down and replaced with fewer units on sight,” said Smith. “I think that everyone agrees that gentrification is a major issue, and I think the real way to address it is, one, to add more units to the housing supply through something like T.O.D., and also focus on preservation activities on the side streets.”

Meanwhile Noah Muskowitz, an organizer with Somos/We Are Logan Square, reminisced about the daughter of a tenant he recently worked with in an attempt to avoid their eviction.

“During the course of the eviction, when she was afraid she was going to have to go to a different neighborhood, her grades dropped to a C,” said Muskowitz. “That’s a huge emotional impact for a child. It’s not just, ‘Oh, you have to move’, it’s the displacement of communities that they’ve spent their entire lives supporting. Their access to child care, their access to resources, and when you displace that it completely ruins someone’s life.”

Muskowitz added that he thought it’s incredibly disingenuous for Moreno to act like he’s fighting for neighborhood residents facing displacement when he’s part of the problem.

In response to the protests, Moreno’s office released a statement Wednesday morning saying that the alderman was, “gratified to learn that a group of 1st Ward residents saw fit to express their support for his proactive and substantial efforts to provide more affordable housing opportunities in the 1st Ward.”
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This post is also available in: Spanish

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