As Chicago communities brace for ICE raids scheduled to take place on Sunday, thousands took to the streets on Friday and Saturday to protest them, along with the prison camps at the border and the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
Several hundred people gathered in Federal Plaza in the Loop during rush hour on Friday evening for a vigil dubbed “Lights for Liberty.” Similar vigils were held throughout the evening in neighborhoods across the city and in the suburbs, as well as hundreds of cities nationwide.
In June, President Donald Trump announced a mass ICE operation that would have targeted 2,000 families with members that received deportation orders. Just before they were slated to begin, Trump tweeted he delayed those raids.
“At the request of Democrats, I have delayed the Illegal Immigration Removal Process (Deportation) for two weeks to see if the Democrats and Republicans can get together and work out a solution to the Asylum and Loophole problems at the Southern Border,” he tweeted. “If not, Deportations start!”
After the deadline passed, ICE officials announced raids would take place in 10 major cities across the country, including Chicago.
Protesters at demonstrations on both days called out the raids as well as the abhorrent conditions inside the prison camps across the country, as well as their very existence.
“Children and teenagers are in cages with no running water, no showers, no decent food, no clothing, no education, no medicine,” said Sharon Sanders of the group United for Democracy Now at the Friday vigil in the Loop. “Fascism is running rampant. The faster we accept this the faster we can work on solutions.”
Vice President Mike Pence toured two detention camps in Texas on Friday, while House Democrats toured facilities on Saturday. Pence tweeted multiple times over the weekend about the “compassionate care” those imprisoned were receiving, but reporters who were literally part of the same tour showed very different scenes.
VP saw 384 men sleeping inside fences, on concrete w/no pillows or mats. They said they hadn’t showered in weeks, wanted toothbrushes, food. Stench was overwhelming. CBP said they were fed regularly, could brush daily & recently got access to shower (many hadn’t for 10-20 days.) pic.twitter.com/tHFZYxJF7C
— Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) July 12, 2019
Evelyn Pape, an Elmhurst resident that visited the Homestead detention center in Florida, described heartbreaking conditions and called their imprisonment an “evil thing.
“While that was comforting to see them smile and wave it touched our hearts because they were imprisoned behind those fences and could not leave, and did nothing to deserve it,” she told the crowd. “They cannot have comforts of home or they cannot even hug each other – brother and sister – these are children. This is as evil a thing as our country has ever done.”
Though the Trump administration, its loyalists, and others on the right have said that both the raids and detaining migrants in prison camps is necessary to combat “illegal immigration,” seeking asylum at a port of entry is not illegal. Speaking through an interpreter, a man named Pedro told his story to the crowd on Saturday.
“When I decided to come to the United States, there wasn’t time to think about it,” he said. “Cartel members murdered my dad and my uncle in my house in front of me.”
Pedro said he received threats to his family and left the next day with his wife, mother, brother, and two year-old daughter. He and his family crossed the border at San Ysidro, a district of San Diego that rests alongside the Mexican border. His family was separated, with his wife and daughter detained for four days, his mother held for a month in Los Angeles, his brother in Miami for three months, and Pedro himself held in a prison in Iowa for five months.
“I had never set foot in a jail,” he said. “I behaved well my whole life, and now I was in jail because someone had done something to me.”
Mahalea Velasco, a 12 year-old child whose father was deported 8 years ago, had questions for the crowd and for the Trump administration on Saturday:
“Millions of white children have the right to a family. I am Latina. Aren’t I a child? I’m here because President Trump says ICE will attack thousands of families separating children from parents. Millions of them are children of color. I ask you, aren’t they children? I’m one out of six million US citizens and two million dreamers with an undocumented parent. Aren’t they children? Don’t they deserve the right to a family?”
Some local politicians also participated Saturday, including Congressman Chuy Garcia, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton, and Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa.
“Let us ask ourselves what we value, which side are you on,” asked Garcia. “We know what side the president and most Republicans are on. The side of calling Mexicans rapists, the side of the Muslim ban, the side caging and breaking up families. They are on the side that is allowing children to die in US custody in cages and camps.”