Quick Hit Anthony Burke Boylan Tuesday August 26th, 2014, 6:07pm

Chicago Immigration Reform Advocates Press Local ICE Director For Action On Pending Deportation Cases

Josefa Gonzalez and her two children felt secure when her partner, Wilson Gomez-Pu, was working full time and supporting the family.

But that all changed when Gomez-Pu has was placed in a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility. He has been facing possible deportation for the last year on a nearly 14-year-old order despite having no history of violent crime. And now his family, including children Wilson, 11 and Dalilah, 7, are threatened with eviction.

It was for his case and many others like it that dozens of protesters rallied in front of the ICE field office, 101 W. Congress Parkway, Monday as immigration reform advocates met with local director Ricardo Wong. They asked for a speedy resolution for pending cases, a release for Gomez-Pu and other detainees, and additional reforms.

They chanted “si se puede’’ (roughly translated as yes, it can be done), a phrase made famous by Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, and told stories of close-knit families torn asunder by, what they say is, a flawed deportation and detention system.

“The meeting today was a good step forward, but now we need something tangible,’’ said Carlos Rosa, a deportation defense organizer with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. “Wong committed himself to have a dialogue with us today at the meeting and to review the Gomez-Pu case again.’’

Gomez-Pu has already been denied a release once, but Rosa said the request to reconsider is based on the family’s financial hardship.

The ICE office did not return a call for comment nor release a statement on the meeting, which was scheduled after a meeting postponement in July saw a similar rally.

Immigration reform advocates are hopefully awaiting an executive action promised by President Barack Obama next month. Obama promised to take action if the House of Representatives failed to tackle immigration reform, something House Speaker John Boehner has said will not happen this year.

Obama is expected to shift resources to efforts such as border enforcement and make changes to deportation policies.

“If  Congress will not do their jobs, at least we can do ours,’’ he said.

‘’While the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants wait for the President to fulfill his promise to take administrative action and address the deportation crisis, Illinois families continue to face deportation along with more than 1000 people nationwide every day,’’ said ICIRR in a statement. “Families and immigration advocates will continue to demand action from the President and press local ICE Director Wong to take a more proactive role in keeping families together.’’

Advocates are calling on the president and other immigration officials to include several changes in the way detention and deportation is handled, including:

  • Increasing the list of so-called safe spaces, i.e. places undocumented workers will not be rounded up, to include workplaces, health care facilities and the courts. Making immigrants fearful of being employed, seeking medical treatment, or attending court dates for things such as traffic tickets or civil matters causes more chaos and offers no help to people working toward citizenship.
  • An end to the mandatory detention quota system forced on ICE that requires the agency to fill each of its 34,000 beds every night. That results in arrests being made only to fill bed space at a cost of $161 per detainee per day, which keeps people from working, divides families, and ignores other alternatives -- such as ankle monitors -- that cost as little as .70 cents to $17 a day. Activists would like to see an end to the detention of the following persons: Family breadwinners who support children and households and contribute to the workforce; people with health issues inappropriate for detention, such as HIV; those awaiting political asylum; the mentally ill; LGBT immigrants who face persecution in detention; and people with special needs, who often end up in solitary confinement for their protection, despite having done nothing to deserve the isolation.
  • A slowing of deportations in general, which hit a record high of more than 400,000 in 2012, but slowed to a still-high 368,000 last year.

Organizers said they plan to follow up with ICE on steps discussed in the meeting soon, but gave no specific dates for subsequent action.

The event gathered activists and victims from around the Midwest.

Omar Damian Ortega, 37, paid his state-mandated insurance premiums for ten years before injuring his back on the job in 2009. Only when he filed a worker’s compensation claim did his insurer decide his immigration status was of concern. His mother, Herlinda Damian, made the trip to Chicago from Milwaukee along with Ortega’s daughter, Vanessa, 8.

“That insurance company was happy to take his money for a decade,’’ Herlinda Damina said with translation by Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera. “When a claim is filed and they might have to pay money they owe, that workers have earned with their premiums, that’s when they care about immigration status.’’

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