Last week, hundreds of Chicagoans gathered at the Haymarket Memorial in downtown Chicago to attend a press conference hosted by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and the Immigrant Youth Justice League (IYJL), among others. The press conference was held one hour before a Department of Homeland Security Task Force public hearing on Secure Communities, a federal deportation program.
The press conference was attended by hundreds of youth activists, immigrant rights advocates, politicians, and members of Chicago’s faith-based community.
With the Haymarket Memorial as a backdrop, gatherers listened to horror stories about how the Secure Communities program has split up thousands of families nationwide, oftentimes because of petty violations such as an individual having a dream weaver hanging from one individual’s rear view mirror. Many of the speakers and attendees were clearly emotional as we learned about brothers, fathers, mothers, and sisters who have either already been deported or are in the process of being deported.
After an hour of storytelling and powerful speeches detailing the vast short-comings of the Secure Communities program, the attendees moved en masse to attend the DHS Task Force hearing just down the street at a local IBEW Hall.
The boisterous crowd entered the IBEW Hall and took their seats while the DHS Task Force outlined the hearing’s agenda and format. Before the hearing was due to start, however, Chicago police decided to close the doors, barring hundreds of people from entering the hall. Groups like the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) and IYJL cried foul, though, and hundreds of people began chanting, “Let them in!” Finally, after much commotion, the remaining folks were allowed into the building, and the hearing began.
After only a few speakers, though, Alaa Mukahhal, a young IYJL organizer, took her turn at the microphone and declared that she and many other undocumented youths were leaving the hearing to sit in the streets in non-violent demonstration against the Secure Communities program. Alaa then walked out, with over 300 people following her in stern protest of the Security Communities program.
Outside, the demonstration in the streets was in full swing, and would ultimately last well over an hour.
Hundreds of activists rallied around the youth, chanting and showing their solidarity. Some of the protesters even attempted to block an exit from the 90/94 highway, but were prevented from doing so by Chicago police. The demonstration ended after six of the youth were arrested and carted away by police.
The IYJL announced on its website later that night that all of the arrested youth had been released. Even though most of the people had left the hall in protest, the DHS hearing went ahead. The overwhelming majority of the people who decided to give testimony spoke out against the Secure Communities program. Their moving stories powerfully related how the program doesn’t actually “secure” communities—it splits them up.
For more information on the Secure Communities program and the opposition to it in Illinois, visit the websites of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, the Immigrant Youth Justice League, and the National Immigrant Justice Center.