For the second time in less than a month, immigrants and their advocates in Chicago and other major cities are girding for the prospect of a large-scale ICE deportation campaign reportedly set to begin this weekend.
With President Donald Trump hinting that sweeps targeting undocumented families and those with final deportation orders would begin soon — after announcing and then postponing the planned raids last month — activists in Chicago are again mobilizing resistance and advising immigrants of their rights.
On Thursday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot reiterated that Chicago police won’t cooperate with agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on the campaign and blasted the president for “fear-mongering” and “making immigrants scapegoats … who are just here to live their life. That’s not who we are or should be as Americans.”
Advocates who held a press conference outside the ICE office in the South Loop — and who plan another rally on Saturday against the presumed upcoming raids — passed out know-your-rights cards and said they’re staffing hotlines and lining up legal assistance for those anyone who is targeted.
“Our communities have been in constant fear of detention, deportation and family separation,” said Evelyn Venegas Cuzco of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
The operation is similar to ones conducted regularly since 2003 that often produce hundreds of arrests. It is slightly unusual to target families, as opposed to immigrants with criminal histories, but it’s not unprecedented. The Obama and Trump administrations have targeted families in previous operations.
But this latest effort is notable because of the politics swirling around it.
Trump announced on Twitter last month that the sweep would mark the beginning of a push to deport millions of people who are in the country illegally, a near-impossibility given the limited resources of ICE, which makes the arrests and carries out deportation orders.
Then he abruptly canceled the operation while lawmakers worked to pass a $4.6 billion border aid package. Plus, details had leaked, and authorities worried about the safety of ICE officers.
Lightfoot said Thursday morning the country needs comprehensive immigration reform and she hopes Trump can use his power to “forge a solution that has eluded other presidents.”
Though Lightfoot has said repeatedly that Chicago police won’t cooperate with or facilitate ICE enforcement actions, immigration activists urged her on Thursday to sign an executive order to that effect.
Asked Thursday whether she’ll do that, Lightfoot said: “What we are working on is doing everything we can to push back against what the Trump administration is doing.”
The mayor also praised the city’s lawsuit against the Justice Department over the administration attempting to take money from sanctuary cities and said the city would take more steps, “not just in an executive order but legislatively to address the exceptions to the Welcoming City ordinance.”
The activists say they’ve had discussions with the mayor’s office since Trump first announced the wide-scale raids weeks ago. They propose language for an executive order that would prohibit Chicago police from transferring someone into immigration custody unless there is a “properly issued criminal warrant.” The proposed order would also prohibit the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from having access to the police department’s electronic databases, though other federal agencies could presumably access the same information.
Rey Wences, an activist from Organized Communities against Deportations, said the group met with Lightfoot’s office as recently as this week but hasn’t gotten a response as to why the mayor hasn’t signed an order, despite her comments suggesting she agrees with the group’s proposal.
“What we know is talk is cheap and words are not enough,” Wences said during a news conference outside ICE’s office.
Chicago Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th, who was also at Thursday’s news conference, said the Welcoming City ordinance has holes in the language that leave the door open for Chicago police to work with ICE. This is why advocates are pushing for the executive order, he said.
“Mayor Lightfoot has the power to do that, and ultimately we need something that has the weight of the law that will defend our community,” Ramirez-Rosa said after the news conference.
Advocates are expecting thousands of people to attend a rally at Daley Plaza at 11 a.m. Saturday. Organizers say several people will share personal stories before the group marches to the ICE office at 101 W. Ida B. Wells Drive.
“People are outraged by what’s happening, not only at border cities but other places in the country, and want to stand up to support immigrants,” said Marj Halperin, a spokesperson for the rally.
Ruth Lopez-McCarthy, an attorney with the National Immigrant Justice Center, urged immigrants to know their rights ahead of the proposed raids.
Anyone who encounters a federal immigration agent, no matter their legal status, can remain silent, doesn’t have to open the door to an ICE agent and can walk away if they aren’t under arrest, she told the crowd.
“This (federal) administration may not believe so but every person in this country has the right to due process and has a right to be represented by an attorney,” Lopez-McCarthy said. “… You are not alone, and we will push back and fight for our communities.”
PASO, the West Suburban Action Project, works with immigrant communities in the suburbs and the group has a network in place to inform each other if ICE agents do show up in their neighborhoods, said Estela Vara, a senior organizer for the group.
“The community in Illinois is ready and organized to respond to attacks from the president and ICE, and we won’t allow more injustices,” Vara said in Spanish.
What happens if someone is detained and placed into immigration custody is complicated, Lopez-McCarthy said. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the person will be deported, because there are legal remedies attorneys can attempt to halt the process, but that typically varies on a case by case basis, Lopez-McCarthy said after the news conference.
ICE said in a statement that it would not discuss specifics about enforcement operations.
“As always, ICE prioritizes the arrest and removal of unlawfully present aliens who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security,” the statement said.
Lightfoot also spoke of rights immigrants have to resist deportation, and of the anxiety in Chicago’s immigrant community.
“What’s most distressing to me is the fear in the hearts and in the eyes of children. … I’ve heard young people speaking about the fear that they have that when they go off to school, they may be coming home to an empty house because their parents may have been taken away by ICE,” she said. “That is the real tangible harm that is being done.”
Amid public outcry over news last month that ICE would launch large-scale raids across the country in major cities, including Chicago, Lightfoot stopped in the Little Village and Uptown neighborhoods to speak out against proposed deportations.
Even after Trump tweeted that he would delay the raids, Lightfoot marched through Uptown’s Asia on Argyle corridor and nearby Broadway, stopping at restaurants and bakeries to talk with residents and hand out “know your rights” fliers.
As she walked through the neighborhood, residents stopped her for selfies and hugs.
“This is a race to the bottom for (Trump),” Lightfoot said. “He’s trying to galvanize his shrinking base at the expense of terrorizing our immigrant communities.”
Standing against Trump’s immigration policies is important, Lightfoot said last month, because “every one of us has come from someplace else. There are very few of us that have been actually naturally born here.”
“This president has targeted every single community that doesn’t stand for the same values that he has. I’m a black lesbian married with a wife and child. I came from a poor, working-class family,” Lightfoot said. “Every demographic that I am and that I care about has been under attack for the last 3 1/2 years.”
Associated Press contributed.
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