CHICAGO — Over 100 community supporters, including religious leaders and elected officials, rallied here in front of the immigration court building June 1 as about two-dozen former employees of IFCO Systems, who were arrested as part of a nationwide raid by federal agents in April, went to their first deportation hearing.
Last month 1,187 employees of IFCO Systems in some 40 towns and cities in 26 states were arrested, including 26 in Chicago. Many immigrant rights activists believe that the recent raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents of the Department of Homeland Security were an attempt by the Bush administration to intimidate the growing movement for progressive immigration reform.
Immigrant rights leaders at the rally demanded that these workers have their deportations set aside and get their jobs back. Participants also publicly signed an open letter to President Bush calling for a moratorium on all raids, arrests and deportations until the national legislative process can arrive at a new immigration law. The Chicago City Council recently passed a resolution along the same lines.
The morning of the rally, one group of workers was granted a four-month extension on a final decision on deportation. A different judge gave the afternoon group only two months.
Elvira Arellano, president of La Familia Latina Unida, who is facing deportation and possible separation from her son in August, went on a 22-day hunger strike that ended the day of the hearing and rally.
She told the World that she was fasting “principally to tell Bush to reform the current immigration policies and to keep families together, for workers rights and an end to deportations.”
“If there is no legalization process, our people are going to continue dying crossing the border,” she said. “We are going to continue fighting for and supporting the workers.”
Arellano thinks that the recently passed Senate bill on immigration reform is tackling difficult issues, but does not do real justice to the immigrant community.
“We need a bill for everyone,” she said. “In general, we are not criminals. What we are essentially talking about is the reunification of families, of workers.”
Flor Crisostomo, another hunger striker at the rally, was also one of the workers arrested in April. She was given an extension on her deportation order.
“It’s a sacrifice what we are doing,” she told reporters. “We are doing this for the millions of undocumented workers everywhere.”
“If one of my co-workers has to be deported today, I will continue the hunger strike,” she told the World at the rally.
Young children missed school to be at the rally and picketed alongside their mothers and fathers, holding signs that read, “Kids must grow with their family” and “Dignity for the worker, reunification now.”
Jorge Romero, 12, a son of one of the IFCO workers, spoke during the rally.
“I did not want to see my dad taken from me,” he told the World afterward, “and I didn’t go to school so I can remember this day.”
He mentioned how his little brother began to cry nights before when watching the news on television, and is scared that his father is going to be taken away.
“I hope that they don’t take him to Mexico,” he said. “My dad makes us happy in the house, he makes us laugh.”
A little girl began to address the press at the rally, to make a statement saying she did not go to school that day so she could be there with her grandfather. She broke down and began to cry as the cameras pointed at her.
Emma Lozano, executive director of Pueblo Sin Fronteras, a local immigrant rights group, said she was glad the judges gave extensions to the workers regarding deportation. She also spoke about the torture and trauma being caused for the children in this process.
“We will not stop and we will not accept the injustice being done to these families,” she said. “We need a moratorium to stop deportations.”
Lozano said that while some believe a political shift in Congress this November holds the best promise for improving immigrant rights, the reality is that raids, arrests and deportations continue to haunt and separate the immigrant community right now.
However, Lozano stressed that she plans to lead two campaigns: one for mass citizenship training for undocumented immigrants, and another for mass voter registration.
“Please fight with us to keep these families together,” said Lozano at the rally. “We need to change America, we are all America.”
After waiting anxiously in the hall outside the courtroom, while their children played, family members began to sob after hearing that their loved ones have only a couple of months before facing possible deportation.
Roberto Lopez, director of the Pueblo Sin Fronteras Legal Program, consoled the group in the hall, saying, “We have two months to work with, we’ll get more signatures and talk to our elected officials. We are going to have to keep on working, that’s the only thing we can do now.”