Activists protest Customs and Border Protection symposium, demand immigrant rights

Alexandra Yetter

By Blaise Mesa, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Dozens of community activists protested outside the U.S. Customs and Border Protection annual trade symposium Tuesday, demanding “an immediate cease of all actions that terrorize immigrant families.”

“By hosting the Customs and Border Protection symposium, Marriott is showing they are, in fact, not an open and safe place for all guests and community members,” said Mansi Kathuria, a speaker at the event from Asian Americans Advancing Justice. “We believe that all humans deserve safety … no human being should be in a cage.”

Symposium attendees are importers and private sector members of the international trade community who keep the world’s economy moving, said CBP spokesperson Steven Bansbach in an emailed statement Tuesday. CBP is the second largest revenue source for the federal government, according to Bansbach.

“The annual trade symposium is a way to bring together the international trade industry and government to ensure we are meeting the needs of trade while being able to effectively enforce trade laws and regulations,” he said.

The event rotates annually between the East Coast, West Coast and Midwest.

Octavio Montañez, a protestor at the event who is from Mexico, said CBP should have a heart.

“You can’t begin to be human if the first thing you are thinking about … is money,” Montañez said.

The protestors called for Marriott to cancel the conference while chanting, “Down, down with deportation. Up, up with liberation,” and “CBP has to go.”

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Mayor Lori Lightfoot unsuccessfully tried to move the symposium outside of Chicago, a sanctuary city.

One of the speakers at the symposium was Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Kevin K. McAleenan, who also serves as the commissioner for CBP.

McAleenan testified in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform July 18 where he was asked, among many things, about his handling of a Facebook group with approximately 10,000 past and present CBP officers who posted racist and sexist images, one of which depicted female members of Congress being raped. McAleenan said he saw the posts and, minutes after reading the ProPublica report, directed an investigation into the group.

“We do not have a dehumanizing culture at CBP,” said McAleenan in his testimony in front of the committee. “This is an agency that rescues 4,000 people a year.”

The symposium and protest came the same day Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed bills to protect children of undocumented residents in the state by forging a path to citizenship and providing guardianship for children whose parents have been detained.

Pritzker’s string of bills extending immigration rights are a direct response to President Donald Trump and his administration’s “wrongful” border policies and threatened raids, the governor said.

Destiny Miranda, a speaker at the event, said Chicago should be a city that provides protection for immigrant and minority communities.

“They continue to separate our families there is no room for them in Chicago,” Miranda said. “Chicago is our city, and there is no room for CBP, ICE and DHS.”