By Anabel Mendoza
A Chicago Immigration Court judge ruled in favor of releasing Francisco Silva, a 49-year-old man who was held in immigration detention for over five months, this past January.
Despite Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s recent characterization of Chicago as “the most welcoming city in America” for immigrants, Silva’s favorable decision came only after months of lobbying by the Organized Communities Against Deportations (OCAD), a local advocacy organization that supports immigrants in deportation proceedings.
OCAD has supported roughly 20 deportation proceedings per year, according to organizers. But that pales next to the total number of cases in the Midwest. In 2018, Chicago’s Immigration Court (cq), which oversees immigrant proceedings for six Midwestern states, had nearly 30,000 pending cases, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s most recent annual report.
Some organizers said that the large number of pending proceedings showed the limitations of Chicago’s policies that are meant to protect immigrants.
Xanat Sobrevilla, a deportation defense organizer for OCAD who helped coordinate support for Silva’s hearing, said that immigrants like Silva who have a police record are at the top of those who tend to be least protected. Silva was arrested for three DUI offenses between 2013 and 2018.
“You wouldn’t detain indefinitely and deport a U.S. citizen who made the same mistake as Francisco Silva,” Sobrevilla said. For her and Miguel and Lopez, an OCAD organizer whose brother has been in detention for just over eight months, there were still many immigrants who have been targeted by local and federal law enforcement.
“Every day that I work it, there’s at least two calls with people calling for help to find their loved ones because they have been taken away,” Lopez said of his experience answering the hotline for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, a Chicago-based advocacy organization that helps connect families with social services.
Earlier this month, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the city council passed the Accountability on Communication and Transparency (ACT) ordinance, a regulation that promised to restrict city agencies and employees from helping Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials gather data on immigrant communities.
Despite the ordinance, OCAD organizers said the city’s policies have overlooked the “arrest-to-deportation pipeline,” which makes it easier for immigrants who have been arrested by local law enforcement to later be detained by ICE and possibly deported.
According to OCAD organizers, this was what happened to Silva.
Shortly after completing his one-year house arrest sentence for a 2018 DUI charge, Silva received a call from the Chicago ICE Field Office that said he was required to come in for a “check-in.” Two ICE officials detained Silva when he and his son walked in.
Arianna Salgado, an organizer from OCAD who attended the hearing, said she has seen an increase in immigrants without proper documentation who have been arrested for various offenses that lead to deportation proceedings.
In 2018, ICE detained 156 immigrants from Chicago and the surrounding suburbs, of which nearly half were convicted of a prior offense, according to a press release from the Department of Homeland Security.
Despite the judge’s ruling, it was unclear when Silva would be officially released, and OCAD organizers said ICE can choose to appeal the decision.
While several attendees at the hearing said they were grateful for the judge’s decision, they added that there was still more work to do to support other immigrants in Chicago.
“We don’t tend to dwell on the successes as much as we do the failures,” Salgado said. “It feels great, but we have other things [to address].”