Eleven immigrant rights activists were arrested in Broadview Tuesday morning after linking arms in the street and blocking traffic near a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center to protest deportations.
Before the arrests, a few hundred people picketed outside the detention center, located at 1930 Beach St., as part of the national "Not One More" deportation campaign, urging President Barack Obama to use his executive authority to halt deportations immediately. Nationwide, activists with the campaign took part in more than 80 immigration-related actions over the weekend.
On Monday, local immigrant rights advocates began to march from ICE's downtown Chicago field office to the Broadview detention center, making stops along the way for a prayer vigil and other actions.
The two-day event culminated with a rally in front of the detention center, where activists chanted “Two million, Too many” to raise awareness about the nearly 2 million people who have been deported under the Obama administration.
"He has the record of two million deportations. More than any other president in the history of the United States," said Reyna Wences with Undocumented Illinois. "In only six years, we've seen families torn apart. We've seen the pain that places like Broadview represent for our families, and so we're also here to tell the community, 'Hey this is in your backyard. This is happening right here, and we came to shut it down.'"
Activist Carlos Rosa said if Obama was able to stop the deportation of DREAMers, or young people who were brought to the United States as small children, then he should also be able to suspend the deportation of parents, spouses and children of U.S. citizens.
"I'm a U.S. citizen. I don’t fear deportation, but I know that when you're taking hard-working and decent people, putting them in detention centers and then putting them on buses and separating them from their families, that is an act of injustice," Rosa said.
Tuesday's action comes nearly a month after Obama announced that the Department of Homeland Security will be reviewing its practices to see if deportations can be handled "more humanely within the confines of the law." The White House did not specify when the review of deportation practices will be complete.
After the rally in front of the detention center, the group marched to the busy, nearby intersection of 25th Avenue and Roosevelt Road, where 11 activists sat on the street, linked arms and were later arrested by police clad in riot gear.
This is not the first time immigrant rights activists have targeted the Broadview detention center. Last November, about 50 people rallied near the facility, and some organizers temporarily stopped a bus filled with undocumented immigrants set to be deported. Twelve people were arrested during that action. People are deported from the Broadview detention center every Tuesday and Thursday, Wences said.
"We know now when you shine a light on ICE, they go running away," Wences said. "They deported people today, not out of (the Broadview detention center), because they knew we were going to be here, but instead they took them to 101 W. Congress [in Chicago] where they also deport people from there."
The next plan of action, Wences said, is continuing to put community pressure on detention centers across the state.
"We're going to ask the community to continue to come out," she said. "Go to Broadview, go to McHenry, go to Downtown Chicago — make sure that Obama gets the message that two million is too many."
Activists argue that administrative action is imperative, seeing as how House Republican leadership has refused to bring an immigration reform package up for a vote. Bipartisan legislation to overhaul the country's immigration system already passed through the Senate back in June.
"This is not a Republican issue or a Democratic issue," said the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights' Executive Director Lawrence Benito, one of the 11 activists arrested Tuesday.
"I will stand alongside any Republican from our Illinois delegation that's willing to support our communities to stop deportations and to support immigration reform," he said. "But I say that also because we also have to hold our allies accountable, and we have a president in the White House who campaigned in our communities on immigration reform. He campaigned and he made promises that he was going to push for immigration reform, and instead what we have is nearly two million deportations. Two million is too many, and so we’re holding the president accountable today."
Here is more from Benito as well as scenes from the protest:
Activist Maria Paz Perez's husband was deported to Mexico last November.
"He left me, a four year-old and a 14 year-old alone trying to make it, trying to see how we can do our day-to-day activities," she said. "That’s what the government wants you to do — just forget that they we're here and go on with your life, pay your bills, take your kids to school without that one person in your life that helped you do all that. You can't do it. We can't do it. We can’t let the government do this to our families."
Graciela Vergara, an SEIU* Local 1 member, was also arrested. Before taking part in the civil disobedience, she said her family was temporarily separated by deportation for about a year. Her husband was sent back to Mexico in September 2012 to "fix his legal status," she said. After sending necessary paperwork to the U.S. government, Vergara's husband was able to return to the United States last July.
Vergara said the temporary separation had a big impact on her six year-old son.
"He was not being a normal kid," she said. "He did not want to play. He didn’t want to go to school ... It got to the point where he would tell me he just wanted to die, because it was just too painful to handle."
Vergara implored leaders of the GOP-controlled House to stop "playing politics" and take action on immigration reform.
"Obviously, people elected our representatives. They're there to represent people," she said. "They should just stop playing politics with people and really bring it back to what it is. This is unnecessary pain. People are suffering. Their families are suffering. It's really unnecessary, and they have the power to change that. It's about being human and caring about somebody else."
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