ICIRR, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, hosted a rally and march on July 8th at Thompson Center in downtown Chicago.
In collaboration with dozens of organizations all across the city and suburbs, the rally ignited a sense of community and commonality among the over five hundred marchers who gathered. Moving past the era of the Trump administration, a huge shift was noticed in the crowd who now felt empowered to fight for immigration rights—starting with the Illinois Way Forward Act (SB 667)—a bill that hopes to extend sanctuary protections statewide and end immigration detention in Illinois
Around 3 p.m. activists began leading education sessions on the remaining steps to pass Illinois Way Forward Act. Guests arrived with signs in hand reading “No One Is Illegal on Stolen Land,” “Citizenship for All,” “Stop Separating Families,” and more.
As the rally was beginning, the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council marched in a pack with bright orange T-shirts, chanting “Citizenship for who? Citizenship for all!” Other marchers quickly joined in.
Elizabeth Cervantes, the director of organizing for the Southwest Suburban Immigrant Project (SSIP) spoke to the crowd about her life as a young undocumented woman in the city, attending the same protests she was now speaking at.
She put out a call to action to hold President Biden accountable for his previous promises on deportations and pathways to citizenship for immigrants and refugees. “Even though I am tired, I am also filled with hope,” she said.
Ruth Vazquez, a member of SSIP said she felt excited and overwhelmed at her very first protest. She wanted to attend because of friends who are on DACA and to fight for immigration rights. Both of her parents are immigrants, and she explained that there is extra responsibility in being a first-generation American.
“All of these issues hit home for me,” she said. “As a Hispanic woman, I need to be here to change things.” Vazquez is also in favor of holding politicians like Governor Pritzker accountable for past promises too.
“Most politicians tend to lie about things, and they don’t keep up with what they’re doing,” she said. “Biden, for example, I voted for him because I thought he would change, but he isn’t changing much. I know it takes a lot to change, but a few steps go a long way. The smallest things can be the biggest reactions.”
Veronica Gloria, the executive director of the Spanish Community Center (SCC) in Joliet, an organization involved with the event, spoke about the differences that immigrants may face in the city versus the suburbs.
The city offers more community centers, more access and easier transpiration—but immigrants do not only live in the city. SCC serves Will County, a population of almost 700,000.
“We have to cover an entire county with just one center,” Gloria said. “There is definitely a disparity between the city and the suburbs, but there is just as much movement in the suburbs for immigrant rights—we are not asleep.”
SCC offers early childhood education and childcare, social services, citizenship and immigration services, and adult education.
Adrian Guzman, an intern with SCC, said he has been inspired by his colleagues and will continue his passion for immigration rights in the fall as he attends law school at Northern Illinois University.
“I feel really tied to my Hispanic community. My parents were once immigrants and now they are citizens. Even though I was born here, I understand that is not the same case for everyone.”
Guzman stressed how important immigrants are to the economy and communities, though their contributions are often overlooked by American-born citizens and those opposed to immigrant rights.
Governor JB Pritzker was also in attendance. As he took the stage, he emphasized his history voting in favor of immigration reform and said that his administration will continue working with ICIRR and the Latino caucus to make sure the Illinois Way Forward Bill is signed into law.
“I remain committed to build upon our efforts so immigrants and refugees in Illinois have equal participation in all parts of our diverse state,” he said.
SB 677 is led by Representative Lisa Hernandez of Cicero and Senator Omar Aquino of Chicago, as well as ICIRR. The bill would end ICE contracts with local prisons and prohibit local police from collaborating with ICE.
This would protect immigrants from facing deportation if they had a run-in with local law enforcement, who would now be prohibited to ask anyone in custody about their immigration status.
On June 29, the bill was sent to Gov. Pritzker after passing in the house and senate. It would also be amending the Illinois Transparency and Responsibility State Tools (TRUST) Act that passed in 2017.
The TRUST Act limited state and local law enforcement from working with ICE but did not prohibit it, allowing possible cooperation. SB 667 would also make Illinois the third state in the country to end state detention contracts with ICE.
ICE currently has contracts with three Illinois counties—Kankakee, McHenry, and Pulaski. Immigrants can be detained at these county jails, and ICE pays each county around ninety dollars per detainee, creating a source of income for counties involved.
Even with pressure from activists, the McHenry County board of commissioners voted to keep their contract with ICE to hold immigrants. McHenry County Jail can hold up to 250 people in ICE custody, yet the daily average was 279 in 2019 and 102 in 2021. The county made more than $3 million per fiscal year from 2016 to 2020 for detaining immigrants in their facility—profiting off the trauma undocumented immigrants face in America.
SB 667 would force all immigration detention centers in Illinois to close by January 1, 2022. But, if the detention centers in Kankakee, McHenry, and Pulaski are closed, the immigrants currently detained there would not necessarily be released, but rather transferred to a center in another state.
With the TRUST Act, there was still an obvious lack of security among undocumented people seeking help from law enforcement because of possible collaboration with civil immigration enforcement.
SB 667 works to mend previous worries on disclosing immigration status in fear of deportation that may occur at traffic stops or other incidents.
Another change between the TRUST Act and SB 667 would be increasing the power the state attorney general’s office has to investigate violations of the acts and enforce complaints, basically reprimanding local law enforcement who do work with civil immigration enforcement.
Under TRUST, the current system is for the “injured party” to speak out for themselves in county court, which can be harmful and time-consuming for those hurt by the behavior of local law enforcement.
At least seven unmarked police cars and six Chicago Police Department vehicles were at the march and rally. Many uniformed officers stood in the back and later, as the crowd descended on N. Clark Street, surrounded the marchers on bicycles. The march ended peacefully at Federal Plaza.