By William Gaudet
Across the nation, federal immigration authorities are ramping up their efforts to arrest immigrants who aren’t in this country legally.
Since Trump took office, these raids have happened more frequently in Chicago, and especially in neighborhoods like Rogers Park, which is one of the most diverse areas in Chicago. 82 different languages are spoken in the neighborhood, according to ABC 7 News.
In January, for example, officers with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) arrested 22 immigration violators in the Chicagoland area.
Last September, ICE arrested 30 people in Chicago.
Protect RP, a group of community activists in Rogers Park, are hoping to hamper ICE’s efforts.
We spoke with Graciela Guzman, a member of the coordinating team for Protect RP, about how the group is trying to help immigrants.
What actions are Protect RP taking to protect vulnerable members of the community?
First, we want to train people who might be targets. We want to get information out to communities that need it. We set up a hotline that community members can call if they see activity that might be a raid by ICE. We’ve trained several hundred Rogers Park residents to be official verifiers of that information. What that means is that they’ve been trained on how to correctly identify if the activity is actually an ICE raid. Once that is confirmed, there’s a network in Rogers Park that’s activated. Let’s say someone calls and says that ICE is outside of someone’s home. We send a dispatcher to verify if it’s really ICE. Then we send a message out to everyone so that we can get other people to help.
What are some actions that ICE authorities are taking that you would consider unjust?
Originally, we thought that ICE would be operating the way that they had in the past, before Trump.
Exactly. Targeting criminals. But it became really clear that ICE was getting really sinister, really quickly. So some of the sinister things that they’re doing now are diverting and skipping the deportation chain by getting people within court systems, for example. These are spaces that, in the past, had kind of been deemed as non-traditional deportation targets.
Have you witnessed any of these raids personally?
I have not personally witnessed an ICE raid, but I have done a lot of outreach in communities that have been impacted by ICE raids. There were two incidents. One, there was an ICE related shooting in Belmont-Cragin. A gentleman was actually shot in his arm by agents, and I saw the community rally. The second thing was that there was a bakery in the area that was actually hit by an ICE raid. Many in the community were deported as a part of that process. Incidents like these really opened my eyes at how insidious ICE can be and, unfortunately, how tactical they can be. That is why we need as many eyes and ears alert and trained on how to best respond and rise against them.
What do you think is contributing to this negative view towards illegal immigrants? Where do you think all of this hatred is coming from?
The Trump administration’s communication is shockingly good. They’re really good at inciting hatred and bigotry and getting people to rally around that central point. They are just really good at packaging that and preying on people’s fear to achieve that end goal.
What do you think are some of the negative consequences of these mass deportations?
For every person that’s deported, a community is shattered. Families are broken up. When a family is broken, the whole community is hurt. We also talk about the chilling effect. That means that whenever there’s a rumor about a raid, or an actual raid, immigrant families just stop doing day-to-day activities. They stop going to their health center because they’re scared that maybe their doctor’s office isn’t safe anymore. They stop sending their kids to school because they’re afraid to step foot outside of their house and walk the path they need to to actually take their children to school. They stop working. They stop becoming members of their community. Their quality of life disappears. The safety that they used to feel in their home, community and country is gone.
So these deportations aren’t just affecting the people that are being deported? It’s a community issue?
It’s a community issue. Which is why I think our approach in Rogers Park really is neighbor-to-neighbor. We do this because we love our community. We love our neighbors. We don’t think they should be living in fear.
What do you think about the recent controversy over Central and South American immigrants coming into the United States?
I think acknowledging that immigration is transnational is important because issues are not tied to a single country. The fact is that people need to leave their countries because there’s massive poverty, there’s war, there’s bigotry. I’ll tell you my own story. In the 1980s, my family was in El Salvador. They were Salvadorian refugees while the Salvadorian Civil War was raging. My father was in the military. He had no choice but to leave the country. The US government agreed. They gave my mom and dad Temporary Protected Status. But he and my mother actually just became legal citizens of this country after 30 long years of paperwork and meetings.
30 years. 30 years is how long the process took. It opened my eyes that it’s not a clean cut, linear process for most folks. People often have to leave their home countries because of war, poverty and other issues. We need long-range solutions that are more comprehensive than building a wall.
Visit protectrp.org for more information and to sign up for their mailing list. Verifier training sessions will be held later this month and new volunteers are always welcome.