CHICAGO – Activists blocked Congress Street in the financial district Tuesday morning Feb. 16, as rush hour traffic came to a halt. Community organizers from various coalitions gathered in an act of solidarity, locking arms in front of the Regional Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Field Office downtown. They propped two stepladders in the middle of the street and used several boxes filled with garbage as weights to chain themselves down. Dozens of supporters and participants cheered on the sideline as cops showed up to the scene. Bystanders joined into anti-deportation chants, screaming out ‘Dismantle ICE! Defund Police!”
The gathering, which activists originally promoted as a “Coffee and Struggles” discussion event on Facebook, was expanded to include an act of civil disobedience in order to bring attention to the ongoing immigration enforcement raid crisis. In the last several months Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has conducted a nationwide campaign to deport undocumented citizens in the country, many of whom arrived fleeing the growing violence in Central America. Hundreds of thousands of undocumented women and children have made the journey across the southwest border in the last several years. While the Obama administration has been noted for its tough stance on deportations, it was not until November 2014 that ICE announced the enactment of the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP). Under the PEP plan, ICE commenced a series of raids, consequently setting off a wave of fear amongst undocumented people and their family members. (story continues after video)
The anti-deportation event on Tuesday marked a significant moment in coalition-building for immigrants’ rights in Chicago. Various activist communities came together to coordinate the demonstration. Participants included members of: Organized Communities Against Deportations (OCAD), Assata’s Daughters, Black Youth Project (BYP) 100, Fearless Leading by the Youth (FLY), Palestinian Youth in Action, Centro Autonomo, People’s Response Team, the Chicago Religious Leadership Network (CRLN), and others. The participating organizations are all part of various social movements dedicated to the empowerment of vulnerable populations, many of which are primarily run by college students and younger community members.
Assata’s Daughters, an intergenerational collective of Black women and girls named for the African American revolutionary Assata Shakur, released an official statement about the importance of remaining unified in the face of oppression, saying: “Undocumented people in Chicago and nationally are living in fear daily of being taken from their homes and away from their families. We, as Black American community organizers, can relate to that fear. Our communities experience that fear when Chicago Police Officers patrol our neighborhoods, stop and frisk us, occupy our schools, and arrest us in mass (sic).” The statement elaborated on the parallels of black and brown criminalization from law enforcement officials, citing it as an intersectional struggle for all people of color.
Acts of civil disobedience serve not only to interconnect various social movements, but can also highlight critical issues directly affecting marginalized communities of color. Many demonstrators have been working behind the scenes in order to address the frequent violation of civil and human rights that occur during raids, both on the street and in workplaces and homes. During the list of grievances read out loud at the protest, activist cited the frequent use of unnecessary force against unarmed immigrants by ICE officers.
Christian Zamarron, 26, is one of the coalition members who confronted ICE staff inside the headquarters during the demonstration. He has spent several years being involved in activism, and hoped that Tuesday’s actions sent a clear message “Stop the raids. Stop deporting our families and harming members of our community.” Zamarron noted that he himself is not undocumented but that he felt it was important to remain in solidarity with his fellow comrades, “I view those attacks as an attack on myself and my family.”
Despite the several arrests that were made, all twelve protesters were officially released from the precinct on 18th and State by late Tuesday afternoon. The fight to end deportations, however, continues for them as they battle to protect disenfranchised communities, family members and allies. Nevertheless, Tuesday’s event is reflective of an evolving tone in social movements as activists increasingly find greater strength in the power of unity. It was not immediately clear whether additional civil disobedience actions were in the works.
Photo: Michelle Zacarias/PW