The specter of Trump-era immigration enforcement has dimmed the energy of Little Village, where streets no longer bustle with commerce and conversation, residents say.
News of last week’s immigration raids, coupled with rumors that federal agents were asking people for their documents on sidewalks and at businesses, have kept immigrants from leaving their homes unnecessarily.
Some have stopped going to work and are keeping their children home from school — fearful that the family will get separated should the parents be arrested. The result is a slowed economy in the neighborhood known as the “Mexican Capital of the Midwest,” one that relies on visitors from the suburbs and Indiana to fuel its businesses and immigrants without legal status to work in its restaurants.
“Everybody is talking about how ICE is catching people,” said dress shop owner Kocoy Malagon.
With prom season approaching, her splashy gowns with bejeweled bodices usually sell quickly. But few dresses have left the racks of Source Fashion. Malagon and another employee have spent the week watching the minutes creep by, waiting for customers they doubt will show.
“I know sometimes (the deportation rumors are) not true, but now everybody believes everything,” she said. “The Mexican families, they prefer to stay home and close their doors, and that’s it. And then the economy becomes really bad for everybody.”
While the scale of recent arrests was on par with operations conducted under former President Barack Obama, the effect was magnified in Little Village by President Trump’s rhetoric about immigration and by his recent executive order that expanded the list of who can be deported.
The neighborhood is home to one of the largest populations of immigrants without legal status in Chicago. About 20,000 immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally reside in Little Village, according to an analysis of U.S. census data from 2010 to 2011.
“Most businesses here are mom-and-pop shops. Immigrant-owned. We are very successful because the community supports us a lot,” said Jaime di Paulo, executive director of the Little Village Chamber of Commerce. “But businesses have been reporting losses … people are stressed.”
Taqueria owners say lunch and weekend rushes are more relaxed, and the parking lot of the discount mall — home to nearly 80 vendors selling clothing and toys — has been empty on recent weekdays save for the cars of employees.
The neighborhood’s main commercial center, 26th Street, is among Chicago’s most-shopped corridors. But business owners report as much as a 20 percent drop in sales since Trump’s inauguration, according to the Chamber of Commerce.
Chicago’s immigration enforcement office made 48 arrests in the Chicago area during an operation from Feb. 4 through Feb. 10. Of those arrests, 33 people were from Mexico. That sent alarm bells through Little Village, which is 80 percent Latino.
In January, Trump issued an executive order to expand the list of deportation priorities. It now includes any noncitizen who is charged with a criminal offense of any kind, is suspected of committing criminal acts, engages in fraud or willful dishonesty while interacting with immigration officials, is the subject of a pending order of removal or has previously been deported and re-entered the country.
The executive order, as well as viral posts on social media warning people of rumored raids planned for Little Village and Pilsen this weekend, have immigrants limiting their shopping and recreation. While last week’s raids heightened fears, business owners say they’ve seen fewer shoppers on 26th Street since Trump’s inauguration.
“We’re suffering. We’re not just slow, we’re suffering,” said Khodr Kaddoura, the owner of a clothing store at the discount mall. He pointed at the mall’s empty corridors, identifying those walking around Wednesday afternoon as a security guard and employees.
“We have to pay rent. We have to pay employees, and we’re cutting down on those employees. Look, he’s working,” he said, nodding at another vendor, “and I’m working by myself. We cannot even afford employees.”
While residents and business owners said some immigrants without legal status have chosen to stop working, those who remain at work look over their shoulders during their commute, worrying someone will stop them. Permanent residents bring their green cards to work in anticipation of raids while they’re there.
One 26th Street restaurant owner who employs immigrants who don’t have legal permission to live in the country is frustrated by the wave of fear and said immigrants still need to work and provide for their families.
“They’re not criminals or nothing,” said the man, who asked to remain anonymous so he can protect his workers. “They’ve been here for so many years, they’ve got kids, they’ve got a house,” he said. “Of course I worry about (my employees). If they take my people, what am I gonna do? Just open the restaurant for one shift?”
Di Paulo, the chamber of commerce’s executive director, said businesses are disheartened by people’s reluctance to shop. The chamber is working to launch a campaign encouraging people to shop locally in the Hispanic market and hopes to draw visitors from outside Little Village by promoting some of the neighborhood’s restaurants.
“We’re working on strategies to bring business back,” he said. “(Trump’s crackdown) should be more of a reason to unify and be one voice.”
(c)2017 the Chicago Tribune
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