City lawmakers join local activists to prevent immigration raids

Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa denounces Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids at a press conference at City Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 12. (Jay Bouchard/MEDILL)

By Jay Bouchard

Chicago activists and city politicians are responding to the federal government’s increased deportation efforts by organizing community awareness campaigns and filing resolutions condemning raids on undocumented families.

Several Chicago-area immigration rights organizations have hosted workshops and led door-knocking campaigns in an effort to educate undocumented immigrants about their rights in the instance of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid.

On Jan. 2 and 9, Organized Communities against Deportations (OCAD) led door-knocking efforts in Albany Park—a Northside neighborhood with a high Central American population.

Also on Jan. 9, Centro Sin Fronteras, a grassroots organization associated with the Lincoln United Methodist Church, hosted a workshop in Pilsen entitled “Know Your Rights!” for undocumented families living in fear of deportation.

On Jan. 12, Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia announced at a press conference that the county would file a resolution denouncing the Obama administration’s use of immigration raids and other ill-advised practices across the country.

“Because of the [ICE] raids many people are afraid to leave their homes; children are afraid to go to school,” Garcia said. “The recent raids violate basic human rights and threaten the health of all Cook County residents by creating an atmosphere of distrust of governmental authority.”

These strong political and activist efforts come in response to a recent increase of immigration raids in Georgia, Texas, and South Carolina in which 121 undocumented individuals were detained, according to a Jan. 4 statement from Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

No official ICE raids have been reported in the Chicago area, according to Lawrence Benito, executive director of Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR).

However, many undocumented families in Chicago live in fear of ICE raids and some people in the community have heard rumors that raids are happening.

“We haven’t been able to get any confirmation,” said Gabriela Benitez, a lead volunteer with OCAD. “But there have been rumors of raids in the Albany Park area.”

Furthermore, Christopher Bergin, an immigration attorney at Shiller Preyar law offices in Chicago noted an increased presence of ICE activity in the city.

Sandi Gutstein and Jesus Ayala, volunteers with Organized Communities against Deportations, participate in a door-knocking campaign on Saturday, Jan. 9 in Albany Park. (Jay Bouchard/MEDILL)

According to a 2014 ICIRR report, roughly 511,000 undocumented immigrants live in the state of Illinois. Approximately 184,000 live in Chicago, with the highest populations in Little Village, Pilsen, Belmont Cragin, Gage Park, Albany Park, and Brighton Park.

“Chicago is a city of immigrants,” said Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa of Chicago’s 35th ward. “Raids are a nasty tactic. ICE is not welcome to conduct raids in our community.”

Ramirez-Rosa represents the Latino caucus of Chicago’s city council and announced at a press conference that he is submitting a resolution on behalf of the city denouncing the practice of raids.

State Representative Lisa Hernandez announced on Jan. 12 that she is also submitting a joint resolution with State Senator Iris Martinez which condemns the recent raids.

As city and state politicians condemn the raids, local organizations are continuing their efforts. On Jan. 16, OCAD will host a “Know Your Rights” training session where immigrants will learn the precautions they can take in the instance of a raid.

The training session will be held at Centro Autonomo in Albany Park and will be followed by a legal clinic with immigration attorneys.

Regarding the likelihood of raids in the city, the Cook County Department of Homeland Security did not return a request for comment by press time.

Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa denounces Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids at a press conference at City Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 12. (Jay Bouchard/MEDILL)