Immigrant advocates halt Loop traffic, demand end to deportations

Pro-immigrant rights activists blocked a major Loop intersection, demanding Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) cease raids and deportations in the U.S.

An activist coalition condemning a nationwide wave of deportations shut down the eastbound highway entrance ramp outside the Chicago Field Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, at 101 W. Congress Parkway, on the morning of Feb. 17.

Participants in the action, which included members of the groups Organized Communities Against Deportations, Assata’s Daughters and others, also shut down the entrances to the ICE Office and read a statement inside the building denouncing recent immigration raids.

“There needs to be an end to raids and deportations,” said Francisco Canuto, whose home was raided by ICE in November 2015, in a statement.

The traffic blockade was part of a nationwide response from advocacy groups condemning President Obama’s plan to begin 2016 with mass raids targeting Central American families who are fleeing violence in some of the most dangerous countries, according to the advocacy organization Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

In a press release, the group said more than 800 families in Illinois could be targeted by these raids, but ICE agents could very well arrest and detain other individuals beyond their targets.

The number of deportations during both of President Obama’s terms has surpassed 1 million, but took a slight dip last year. According to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement report, 235,413 people were deported in fiscal year 2015, while deportations reached 315,943 in 2014.

“Chicago spends 40 percent of its budget on police,” Tania Unzueta, policy director for the #Not1More Campaign, said in a statement. “We have to invest in developing and nurturing our communities, not deporting and incarcerating them.”

In a press release, the coalition said it wants ICE Chicago Field Office Director Ricardo Wong to use discretion in immigration enforcement tactics and not execute these raids in the area under the jurisdiction of his office.

A letter sent to Wong on Jan. 28 by hundreds of faith leaders from Illinois and surrounding states stressed the role which Director Wong has in providing “protection, not persecution.”

Lissette Castillo, an organizer with the Chicago Religious Leadership Network who was one of the 12 arrested, said the letter was a demonstration of the “united condemnation” of raids targeting immigrants.

“[Targeting Ricardo Wong] is about naming the agencies that are driving terror and panic in our communities,” Castillo said. “It’s about holding the people who make those decisions, who are not used to being held accountable, in the spotlight.”

The letter, which demonstrates the faith community’s unity against immigration raids, called on ICE to “leverage its power of discretion to grant legally recognized forms of relief, such as a stay of removal or deferred action, to vulnerable families and immigrants threatened by deportation.”

Tess Raser, a member of the organization Assata’s Daughters, said the solidarity demonstrated by activists from the movement for black lives shows that struggles in black and immigrant communities are connected.

“Undocumented people in Chicago and nationally are living in fear daily of being taken from their homes and away from their families,” Raser said in a statement for Assata’s Daughters. “Our communities experience that fear when Chicago Police Officers patrol our neighborhoods, stop and frisk us, occupy our schools, and arrest us in mass. Our struggles are distinct but connected.”