Under a broiling sun in June, immigrant families and supporters in Logan Square struck symbolic blows against a shrinking hunk of ice. The event, hosted by the Community Defense Committee (CDC), served to make a statement: The neighborhood stands with its immigrants—and against deportations by ICE.
The ice-blasting event, described with the slogan “Melt, Smash, Abolish ICE,” was the most recent action by CDC. Based in the office of Logan-area Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), the group opposes actions by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. That agency enforces federal deportations of undocumented immigrants, including the “zero-tolerance” policy responsible for thousands of family separations at the border.
Organized shortly after the election of President Donald Trump, CDC pairs resources from Rosa’s office with the energy of area volunteers. The group aims to help “residents of the ward to protect and defend themselves from immigration law enforcement,” said Anthony Joel Quezada, constituent services director for Rosa who also helps with CDC.
The committee accomplishes this by educating immigrants on immigration law and working to stop deportations, Quezada said. The ice-smashing event, which took place outside the Logan Square Arts Festival June 23, gave the group a chance to both share that information and offer moral support to immigrant communities, said Jonathan Nagy, a volunteer with the committee.
Organizing Against Trump
CDC held its first meeting in March of 2017, two months after President Trump’s inauguration. Rosa had worked on immigration cases with the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR). He wanted to both respond to immigrant concerns about Trump’s rhetoric and tap into a local hunger for opposing the administration, Quezada said.
“There were clearly a lot of concerns as to the actions Trump would take to undocumented, refugee, and Arab and black communities,” Quezada said. “It was also the kind of galvanizing force that came from Trump getting elected: People wanted to get involved and fight back.”
Since his election, Trump has turned that rhetoric into real policies. He imposed a travel ban on people from several Muslim-majority countries. The administration also tried to end DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), or the “Dreamers” act. That policy allows people brought to the U.S. as children by undocumented parents to receive deportation deferments and work permits.
Most recently, the administration’s “zero-tolerance” policies at the border led to the family separations dominating the news.
Defending the Ward’s Immigrants
Based on Department of Homeland Security data, an estimated 7,000 undocumented immigrants lived in Logan Square in 2010. Across Chicago, unauthorized immigrants created more than 31,000 jobs and added $5.5 billion to the annual economy, the American Immigration Council said, based on a 2002 University of Illinois study.
To help protect those members of the community, CDC launched with a few goals, Nagy said. And the group of about eight core volunteers with a 180-member email list has pursued those aims over the last 16 months.
“Our first round of goals really is to make sure that every single person in the 35th Ward and the surrounding community is able to defend themselves in the case of an ICE official or local law enforcement coming to their front door,” Nagy said.
Know Your Rights
To spread that knowledge, the CDC has held canvassing and “Know Your Rights” events. The canvassers and meetings cover what you’re required to say when law enforcement visits and whether agents are allowed to enter your home, Nagy said.
“We find that this is the very first line of defense—you have to be able to defend yourself in your homes,” he said.
A big part of that is recognizing the difference between a judge’s warrant and an administrative warrant. The second type has no judge’s signature. It comes from the Department of Homeland Security, not a judge, and is usually signed by an immigration officer. It authorizes an agent to arrest a person, but it doesn’t grant the right to enter a home. Only a judge’s warrant does that.
And many people don’t know the difference between the two documents, Nagy said.
“They both look official, so it’s hard to really tell,” he said. The most important thing to look for is the judge’s signature, he stressed.
More Work in the Community
Throughout its existence, the committee has tried to respond to major actions from the administration, too, Quezada said. Members joined protests at O’Hare after the first travel ban was announced. Special educational events helped DACA recipients wade through the confusing status of the act when the administration attempted to repeal it.
And with the ice-smashing event, the committee wanted to respond to the latest administration actions. “That’s what the movement is talking about now, with the separation of families at the border,” he said.
At the same time, CDC aims to help build a supportive community for Logan Square immigrants, Nagy added; hence, the ICE-smashing community event, along with a series of picnics and garden parties the group has held.
You have rights—and Deportation Affects You
Working in the neighborhood, CDC has found a number of damaging misconceptions about immigration enforcement, Quezada said. Perhaps most importantly, undocumented immigrants often don’t think they have any rights, he said.
“A lot of times, there is some concern in the undocumented and refugee communities that they can’t interact with official legal enforcement,” he said. But CDC tries to reassure people that they do have rights.
“You still have protection under the Constitution as somebody living within the United States,” Quezada said. “And law enforcement has to abide by those laws.”
Those who don’t face deportation also have misconceptions, failing to realize that deportations affect everyone. There’s “this narrative of people saying, ‘Oh, this doesn’t affect me. No one here is undocumented,'” he said.
While it’s true that deportation won’t directly touch documented immigrants and citizens, the administration’s actions will affect everyone, Quezada said.
“They themselves won’t be detained and deported, true. But their neighbor will,” Quezada said. “The person who works down the street will. And the people who allow our society to function and have the community we have are impacted.”
Want to Get Involved?
People in the community are welcome to join the committee. Logan residents may feel stretched in the volunteer time they can offer. But helping with groups like the CDC even for a short time makes a difference, Nagy said.
“I think it’s really beneficial to at least step in for a moment and learn what there is to learn,” he said.
Many CDC volunteers have taken lessons from committee to their other volunteer work. That way, they can still work to protect their neighbors even while focusing on other volunteer efforts, Nagy said.
Nagy and Quezada recommended looking into other community-based immigration groups like the CDC, along with larger operations like ICIRR and Organized Communities Against Deportation.
CDC itself has a few future actions planned. Canvassing happens again on July 21. Volunteers can join by showing up at the alderman’s office (2708 N. Sawyer Ave.) at around 11 a.m. Or, you can email Quezada beforehand at [email protected].
The committee also has an all-community picnic planned for the end of August at the Logan Square Monument.
Tell Other Offices to Step Up
Chicagoans who support the CDC’s goals should also see the group as an example and push other local leaders to do more, Quezada said.
A lot of people in the city want to fight for their immigrant and refugee neighbors, and elected officials want to show their support, he said. The CDC and Rosa show how those groups can come together to do something more tangible, he said.
“This is something that a local elected office is doing with just some money from the budget,” Quezada said. “And this is something that many offices in the city of Chicago can do. … We can demand more from our elected officials.”
Featured Image: Michael Dhar