Immigrant day laborers are seen as disposable, easy targets by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, according to immigrant rights advocates who campaigned for the release of an undocumented Guatemalan worker who was arrested in Chicago Wednesday. He now faces deportation. The raid has reinvigorated efforts to stop deportations while comprehensive immigration reform is considered in Congress.
Immigrant day laborers are seen as disposable, easy targets by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, according to immigrant rights advocates who campaigned for the release of an undocumented Guatemalan worker who was arrested in Chicago Wednesday. He now faces potential deportation.
The raid has reinvigorated efforts by activists and some politicians to stop deportations while comprehensive immigration reform is considered in Congress.
ICE Raid In Chicago
“I’m not a criminal, I’m a worker,” said Israel Lopez Bautista, 43, a father of three who has been living in Albany Park, on Chicago’s Northwest Side, for six years.
Everyday Bautista gathers with other day laborers at Gompers Park, at the corner of West Foster Ave. and North Pulaski Rd., to look for work.
“Day laborers throughout the country are the most vulnerable in our society,” said Eric Rodriguez, executive director of the Latino Union of Chicago. “They face wage theft, they face high rates of injury on the job, there are high rates of police harassment and they have virtually no protections.”
While awaiting potential employers with four other workers Wednesday, including his brother Enrique, two ICE agents approached the group and arrested Bautista. He was taken to the Dodge County Detention Facility in Wisconsin for detention and possible deportation.
“It was like hell,” said Bautista. “I just kept praying to God the whole time that I could be with my family again.”
Following the raid, fellow day laborers reached out to the Latino Union of Chicago, a grassroots organization focused on labor, immigration and civil rights, which organized a campaign demanding Bautista’s release.
According to organizers, local faith-based and community groups joined forces with the Latino Union to apply pressure and advocate for the day laborer's freedom, resulting in more than 100 phone calls to ICE’s Chicago Field Office.
Rodriguez was on his way to a meeting with U.S. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D, IL-4) to ask for help in securing Bautista's release when he got the call that the worker was going to be released and could be picked up Thursday afternoon.
“We’re very proud of how quickly we organized,” Rodriguez said, adding that Bautista was dropped off on a street in Cicero, with no information on where he was or how to get home from the location. “The reality is, there’s no justification for the chaos and trauma that was inflicted on him and his family.”
According to Rodriguez, ICE also raided at least one other day laborer site in Chicago on Wednesday, resulting in no less than three arrests.
Bautista was freed after a little more than 24 hours of imprisonment. He wasn't forced to post bail, but faces a July court date regarding his potential deportation.
He said his arrest was very “confusing.” Because he doesn’t speak English, Bautista said he couldn’t communicate with any detention facility staff and there was very little assistance in navigating the judicial process.
“I recognized the word criminal and I refused to sign,” he said.
He sat down with Progress Illinois to tell the story of his arrest, translation services were provided by Elisa Ringholm, development director for the Latino Union of Chicago:
Despite calls for comprehensive immigration reform that would provide a pathway to citizenship for many of America’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, the nation has seen an increase in deportations under the Obama administration. More than 400,000 people were deported in fiscal year 2012, which is a record high for the nation. That amounts to more than 1,100 deportations each day.
“The whole premise of the American constitutional system was to be that everybody should be a free and equal participant in the political system,” said Alexandra Filindra, assistant professor of political science, specializing in immigration policy, at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Unveiled in April, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act Of 2013, SB 744, was drafted by a bipartisan group of senators that includes U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL). The proposal attempts to create a streamlined path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
After a 10-year wait, applicants who pay $2,000 in fines, can provide proof of continuous employment and pass a background check, are able to apply for a green card. During the decade-long period before being issued a green card, applicants are given “registered provisional immigrant” (RPI) status.
After being issued a green card, and being labeled a legal permanent resident, there would be an additional three-year wait to apply to be a U.S. citizen.
Younger undocumented immigrants and agricultural workers would be eligible to apply for a green card within five years.
The legislation is contingent upon the federal government passing several border security benchmarks throughout the next decade and appropriates $4.5 billion for that purpose.
“This bill creates a two-tier system in the U.S., of people who have rights and of people who don’t have rights,” said Filindra, who added that, while certain legal permanent residents would qualify for government-subsidized health care, if the bill passes, individuals labeled RPIs would be ineligible.
She criticized “the idea of graduated rights” included in the bill, adding that it creates “an incredible level of inequality.”
After being passed in committee in May and receiving an overwhelmingly favorable bipartisan vote to begin deliberations in the full chamber last week (only 15 senators voted against it, including Illinois Republican Mark Kirk), the bill is currently under consideration in the Senate.
Bautista said immigration reform should be easy, saying “we should not divide up families”:
While the legislation already requires heightened security and a 90 percent apprehension rate of individuals illegally crossing into the U.S. in high-traffic areas of the southern border, Cornyn's amendment would expand those requirements to include the entire border. It would also require these goals be met before permanent legal status is issued to any qualifying immigrant.
Filindra said the amendment would “maximize deportations.”
“Deportation in itself is an abject process not consistent with democratic principles,” she said. “It’s not consistent with democracy’s promise not to hurt individuals and not to hurt the rights of people. From a democratic perspective, America is not protecting the rights of its citizens, it made a commitment to protect individual rights, period.”
A Call To End Deportations
Meanwhile, on the same day as Bautista’s arrest, Illinois congressional delegates sent a letter to President Barack Obama, calling on him to suspend deportations while immigration reform legislation is hashed out in Congress.
“It makes no sense to deport people with deep roots in the U.S. by the thousands with one hand and pledge your support for immigration reform with the other,” said Rep. Gutiérrez in a statement. “If the President is serious about immigration reform, he should stop deporting the parents of U.S. citizens and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients and other hardworking people who should have the opportunity earn legal status in the coming years. Any Democrat or Republican in Congress serious about immigration reform should support such an action.”
In signing the letter, Gutiérrez was joined by U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D, IL-9), Tony Cárdenas (D, CA-29), Yvette Clarke (D, NY-9), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D, TX-18) and Dina Titus (D, NV-1) as well as representatives of more than 500 immigrant rights organizations.
“Stopping those deportations is not only sensible and humane; it will help advance efforts in Congress,” the letter reads. “It is now clear that the best advocates for immigration reform are undocumented immigrants themselves. However, immigrants and their families will remain in the shadows as long as deportations continue, and their voice will not be heard as a consequence.”
Rodriguez agreed, saying that continuing deportations while immigration reform is being debated denies those who are most impacted the opportunity to contribute to the dialogue.
“It makes absolutely no sense that individuals who will be most affected by this bill are not even being given a chance to speak out,” he said.
Following his arrest, Bautista said he doubted he would ever see his sons again.
“This situation really shows me that by uniting as a community, and by having faith in God, we can really achieve things together,” he said.
He added that he is not nervous for his court date in July, and plans to continue seeking work at Gompers Park:
“Special Agents from ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) took Israel Lopez Bautista into custody on June 12 for illegally re-entering the United States," said Gail Montenegro, spokesperson for ICE, in a statement. "ICE focuses on smart and effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes the removal of convicted criminals, recent border crossers and egregious immigration law violators. ICE does not conduct enforcement actions to target undocumented immigrants indiscriminately.”
Bautista admits to having been deported in 2007, but said he had no choice but to return to the U.S.
“I have to work. I have to provide for my family,” he said. Bautista’s three sons, ages 15, 17 and 19, are also undocumented and live with him in Chicago.
Rodriguez said there is “nothing special” about Bautista’s situation.
“This is the same case as millions and millions of other families in this country,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense for us to be debating immigration reform, while at the same time creating a human crisis on the ground.”