By Micah Uetricht
Arise Chicago joined the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and other immigrant rights activists at a protest in front of the Chicago offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the South Loop yesterday to call on ICE Director John Morton to meet with families that have been torn apart by deportations.
Morton, who was in town to discuss what ICE claims are significant reforms to the immigration enforcement program Secure Communities (national immigrant rights activists disagree) , met with some representatives of ICIRR, but refused to meet with families whose lives are affected by those enforcement programs. (For an explanation of Secure Communities, or S-Comm, see here.)
Gov. Pat Quinn pulled Illinois out of S-Comm earlier this year, saying “ICE’s ongoing implementation of Secure Communities is flawed.” (Other states have taken similar measures to attempt to opt out of the program, though those efforts remain tied up in lawsuits.) Quinn’s decision was undoubtedly influenced by the revelation by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, who filed a number of Freedom of Information Act requests on Secure Communities, that ICE had conspired to force Chicago and Cook County to participate in the program by pressuring Chicago’s former Mayor Richard M. Daley and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and implementing S-Comm in every county surrounding Cook. Rather than forcing participation of our recalcitrant county, ICE simply looked like a bully caught in the act; Quinn’s opt-out announcement came soon afterwards.
Outside ICE, ICIRR staff and the gathered protesters were not happy with Morton’s decision not to meet with families whose lives have been shattered by deportation–although his decision is understandable. Punitive and restrictive immigration policy is easy to discuss when it remains in the abstract, when visas and quotas and enforcement programs are thought of as simply sound public policy.
But when the impact of programs like S-Comm or the Obama administration’s general ramping up of deportations (President Obama has actually deported more immigrants than President Bush) is considered in light of how those policies devastate families–real, flesh-and-blood parents and children and relatives whose lives are shattered in the wake of detention and deportation–those programs that looked so sound on paper become considerably more difficult to justify.
It’s understandable, then, that John Morton didn’t want to meet with the families who have borne the brunt of his agency’s deportation-happy policies. It’s much easier to continue justifying those policies when you don’t have to think about the real people who are hurt by them.
The protest was a boisterous one, attended by members of various immigrant rights, community, and labor groups. See below for photos from the action.
- Micah is a Midwest Academy Organizing Intern at Arise Chicago