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Gay immigration activists found not guilty
by Jamie Anne Royce

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Six youth immigration activists, arrested while protesting an U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Secure Communities public hearing, were acquitted of all charges March 20.

Fanny Lopez-Martinez, Jorge Mena, Arianna Salgado, Ireri Unzueta Carrasco, Carla Navoa and Miguel Martinez faced charges of mob action, reckless conduct and obstruction of traffic. Mena and Unzueta Carrasco have been named among Windy City Times 30 Under 30 for their work on LGBT undocumented immigrant rights.

"There's been a lot of LGBT leadership within the undocumented immigrant movement," said Tania Unzueta, an organizer with Immigrant Youth Justice League (IYJL). "Almost every instance of civil disobedience we've done, there's been LGBT people involved. It's something I've never seen in the past, LGBT people at the forefront of these civil disobedience actions and rallies"

Through Secure Communities, when someone is arrested, that person's biometric information (fingerprints) is checked against Department of Homeland Security (DHS) databases. If there is a match, ICE is notified and takes legal steps.

DHS hosted a series of public hearings across the country on Secure Communities to gain feedback from the people. During the Chicago hearing in August, members of IYJL, Nuestra Voz and the Latin@ Youth Action League (LYAL) shared their opinions on the program and called for attendees to walk out.

The six, all undocumented immigrants, formed a circle on West Washington Street, blocking traffic. Police removed them from the street several times before the activists sat in an entrance to the I-94 expressway. Police asked them to move, and upon refusing, the activists were arrested.

"This case is about the best of American youth. They are actively engaged and involved in a movement for social changes in the finest tradition of this country," Janine Hart, lawyer for the defendants, said during her opening statement.

The six opted for a bench trial after several continuances and changes to the charges. One of the arresting officers testified during the trial, reaffirming the police report.

Judge Peggy Chiampas found that the state and city attorneys did not meet the burden of proof for these charges, and found the six defendants not guilty.

"I am the child of immigrant parents, and I take immigration issues seriously. I applaud your work," Chiampas said.

However, Chiampas also stressed that people have the right to move freely and go about their business. She also commended the Chicago Police Department for handling the protest effectively and safely.

"I take this very seriously. Your right to protest is what America is all about," Chiampas said. "That's why all of us come here, my parents as well. But we have to respect the law."

The defendants rejoiced at the not guilty verdict.

"I think [Chiampas] is conscious of why we did it. We're youth and came to the U.S. when we were young. She applauded us. I think she understood us," said Mena.

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