What began as the latest public hearing organized by a U.S. Department of Homeland Security task force to address deportation policy concerns ended in the arrest of 10 immigration reform activists Wednesday evening in Chicago.
The activists, according to ABC 7, were part of a large contingent of those attending the hearing who took to the streets and briefly blocked traffic at the Kennedy Expressway off-ramp at Washington Street, much to the irritation of some drivers. Their goal with the act of civil disobedience? To bring attention to the Secure Communities Act, a program the activists argue is causing more harm than good to their friends, families and communities.
(Scroll down to watch video from Wednesday's protest.)
One protester who was arrested, Arianna Salgado, said in a statement that she was "taking action today because I cannot sit back as our families continue to be ripped apart and live in fear daily. I am undocumented, unafraid, unapologetic and determined to continue fighting against the separations of our families."
But proponents of the program, which automatically shares fingerprints from arrestees with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), see it differently. They say the program successfully locates and identifies dangerous criminals.
"They had to have a previous record," Secure Communities Assistant Director John Gurule told ABC 7. "They had to have previously [been] arrested by immigration, they have to have a previous criminal conviction, they have to have something that their fingerprints are in the system already."
The program has, according to WBEZ, led to the deportation of more than 650 undocumented convicted criminals living in Illinois -- but it has also led to the deportation of some undocumented individuals without criminal records.
The Chicago-based National Immigrant Justice Center, which filed a federal class action lawsuit over the DHS program this month, reports that as many of 80 percent of those living in Illinois who have been deported under Secure Communities had either never committed a crime or had only committed a minor traffic offense.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn halted the program's enforcement in Illinois earlier this year, but DHS this month told Quinn and the governors of two other states that followed his lead -- New York and Massachusetts -- that they would need to rejoin the program by 2013.
The task force, which has also held meetings in Los Angeles and Dallas in recent weeks, wants to allow community members to air their concerns with the program, according to the Department of Homeland Security. In Chicago, more than 500 individuals showed up to do at Wednesday's hearing. Attendees packed Chicago's IBEW Hall to capacity doubling the attendance of the department's two preceding hearings, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.
A coalition of dozens of local and national immigration reform advocacy groups also issued a letter [PDF] Wednesday that called for members of the DHS task force to resign because they feel the department is not "operating [the hearings] in good faith."
"Rather than engage in an earnest effort to address legitimate concerns raised by governors, law enforcement professionals, and affected communities about a program plagued with problems, DHS leadership appears to be using the task force process as a nakedly political gesture to defend the status quo," the letter read.
The Wednesday protest came on the heels of a national day of action Tuesday where activists in 16 cities natonwide coordinated protests against Secure Communities, including a demonstration outside President Barack Obama's Chicago campaign headquarters. Activists say Obama is setting into motion a "record-breaking" number of deportations -- a number they estimate at more than 1 million since he took office in 2009.
Photo by oquendo via Flickr.