Workers’ Struggles for Dignity in Chicago and Beyond

Recently undocumented youth in Chicago led hundreds of families, allies, and religious supporters in a large demonstration protesting the Department of Homeland Security's "Secure Communities" program, or S-Comm. Hearings have recently been held across the country after ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Director John Morton stated that the program would be mandatory.

Not long ago, Illinois joined other states to opt-out of the voluntary program which required local police to fingerprint anyone they stopped and send that information to ICE. Shortly after Governor Quinn signed the bill opting out of S-Comm into law, Morton stated that the program would no longer be voluntary but mandatory, thereby negating the will of states to abandon the program which many say lead to racial profiling and distrust of police. Communities and county sheriffs have stated that "Secure Communities" has led to a greater disconnect between police and immigrant communities. People who witness crimes are afraid to go to police out of fear they may be questioned, fingerprinted, and deported. Women don't report domestic violence for the same reason. Workers are afraid to drive to their jobs or to pick up their children from school out of fear of being pulled over for a busted tail light or a cop who has been compelled to target "foreign" looking drivers.

Because of this fear created in communities, 150 organizations representing thousands upon thousands of individuals, have called for the immediate end to the "Secure Communities" program. Many believe the recent hearings have been an attempt to win over more supporters for the program. But communities from L.A. to Chicago have responded by saying that officials should not need to hear more stories, but should instead act on the knowledge they already have and immediately end the program.

At yesterday's hearing, after other testimony was given, Alla, an undocumented young woman took the microphone and announced that she and five other undocumented youth could not in good conscience stay at the hearing, and asked the community members present to follow them out of the building. They then proceeded to block traffic, risking arrest to demonstrate that by having a minor misdemeanor on their recored, under "Secure Communities" they could risk deportation.

After actions in several cities, such as this one in Chicago, the Obama Administration just announced a halt on deportations for non-criminal immigrants. While it does not provide a direct pathway to citizenship it will allow the granting of work permits. This is the most major reaction from the administration yet. While some are skeptical of whether this action will be meaningful, others are claiming it as a major victory. Considering no other such declarations of halting deportations has been taken thus far, it is indeed a victory to be celebrated. But of course the struggle continues to make sure the new plan is implemented. So celebrate, yes, but stay vigilant.

Shelly Ruzicka is Director of Operations at Arise Chicago. 

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