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Undocumented and unafraid: Chicagoan speaks out against ICE raids
by Gretchen Rachel Hammond

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On April 19, the Chicago City Council overwhelmingly passed a measure that would allow the city's undocumented community the opportunity to obtain municipal IDs.

Chicago has followed New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. in a measure which, Chicago Commission on Human Relations Commissioner Mona Noriega noted, keeps the city "at the forefront of creating solutions, in this case recognizing difficulties immigrant, the formerly-incarcerated, the homeless and the transgender communities have in securing identification that allows for them to participate in the many services that are available with proper identification."

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatened to punish Chicago and other sanctuary cities by removing federal grant dollars unless they assist the posses of Immigration Customs Enforcement ( ICE ) agents presently on a nationwide hunt for undocumented individuals.

For the members of Organized Communities Against Deportations ( OCAD )—"an undocumented-led organization that fights against the deportation and criminalization of Black and brown immigrant communities"—the unilateral power given to immigration agents has further terrorized the families and individuals who were placed on notice that their civil and human rights were to be rendered meaningless once they heard presidential candidate Donald Trump call immigrants "rapists" and "criminals."

On March 27 in Chicago, ICE agents charged into the home of Wilmar Catalan Ramirez and his family, breaking his arm during the course of his arrest and then denying him adequate medical attention while in ICE custody.

One day later, Felix Torres was shot by ICE agents during a raid on his Northwest Side Chicago home. According to OCAD, he remains hospitalized in critical condition.

"The Chicago ICE Field office and its director, Ricardo Wong, have repeatedly planned and executed violent raids in homes, work places, churches, and locations where our communities are supposed to feel safe," OCAD wrote. "These raids have involved firearms, physical force, threats, manipulation, biometric fingerprinting machines, and ruses with the intent to force their way into people's homes."

OCAD member and community organizer Antonio Gutierrez is one of the people on ICE's hit-list.

In 2011, Gutierrez was convicted of Driving Under the Influence ( DUI ). According to Gutierrez, a single mistake for which Gutierrez has since paid society's debts and sought rehabilitation, has made him ineligible to remain in the United States under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals ( DACA ) and "affected my life constantly."

"The criminalization of my body has been traumatic and dehumanizing," Gutierrez wrote. "For the state, I am no longer human."

No amount of municipal IDs will change that.

Indeed, as an openly queer, gender nonconforming individual, if Gutierrez is seized by ICE agents, Gutierrez's time in one of their detention facilities could be made infinitely more wretched as Windy City Times discovered during its 2015 investigation of the horrific treatment and both physical and sexual abuses of LGBTQ individuals who are held in ICE prisons often for months at a time with barely any contact with the outside world or any recourse under the Prison Rape Elimination Act ( PREA ).

Yet, rather than remaining in the shadows, Gutierrez is speaking out.

Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Gutierrez arrived in the United States in 2000 along with Gutierrez's family.

At the time, he was only 11. Gutierrez remembers the day 15 years later when Trump labeled Gutierrez a rapist and a criminal.

"It made me feel really bad," Gutierrez told Windy City Times. "My community and the reasons why we come to the United States was demonized. My family was very poor in Mexico. We just came here for an opportunity to get an education and for a better future."

Gutierrez recalled the process of assimilating to the culture and language of their new home "very hard" for Gutierrez's entire family.

After ceaseless, often unrewarding labor, they prevailed and had settled into their new home and lives when Trump made it clear they had better start packing their bags

"I felt like a lot of the sacrifices that many of the undocumented and immigrant families made to come to the United States and be hard workers and try to be a productive part of society was, all of a sudden, completely disregarded based on generalizations made about our community that we're all criminals and that we're all here to take advantage of the United States," Gutierrez said. "But we know that undocumented immigrants are being exploited as workers. We're not taking advantage. If anything, we're being taken advantage of."

Indeed, for Trump, undocumented communities were useful tools around which he built a platform designed to appeal to the basest instincts of hatred and fear.

"It's easy to blame specific groups without trying to have an actual conversation," Gutierrez said. "We saw the mass deportation machine being constructed and taking place during the Obama administration. We are seeing that the [Trump] administration is using this machine to target all undocumented immigrants."

Even before Trump received the electoral college majority in November 2016, Gutierrez said Gutierrez and Gutierrez's fellow community members felt terrorized.

"People like me who are queer and have a criminal record now find ourselves being targeted even more," Gutierrez asserted. "The reality is all undocumented immigrants feel less safe but that does not mean that we cannot organize and take action ourselves."

"Throughout this election, there's only ever been one choice: us. We are the only ones that can defend ourselves," OCAD wrote in November. "We cannot allow fear to overcome us. We stand together. We must resist and organize together."

That has meant working with the City of Chicago to add an amendment to the Welcoming City Ordinance.

"Currently there's existing carve-outs where the police and ICE agents can cooperate with each other in the criminalization of the undocumented," Gutierrez said. "The ordinance created a distinction between good and bad. In cases where an individual has a criminal record, it allows for police and ICE collaboration regardless of the crime."

OCAD has partnered with organizations such as the Black Youth Project 100 ( BYP 100 ) to press for changes to the ordinance.

Meanwhile, Gutierrez and the undocumented community now spend their daily lives under the omnipresent threat of ICE to turn what was once a dream of America into a violent, isolated nightmare.

Gutierrez asserted that ICE agents have even carried out raids in homes wearing police identification in order to fool the families inside.

"It's hard for me and immigrants overall," he said. "Because we know racial profiling is a tactic that the police and ICE agents use in order to stop and detain individuals. ICE agents self-identifying as the police clearly sends the wrong message and confuses our community when all they want is to be good citizens and cooperate with the police when they come to the door. Now, they don't know if it's actually the police who need their support or if it's ICE to detain family members."

Gutierrez added that the undocumented community now does not know who to trust.

"I know that if I'm detained today or tomorrow by ICE and put in a detention center, I will end up in solitary confinement because I'm LGBTQ," Gutierrez said. "But the fear is lessened knowing I have a community behind me, that I am part of community organizations that I know will work for me and that I know my rights."

Gutierrez urged both the undocumented community and those who wish to support them to join organizations like OCAD and others in solidarity at events such as the May 1 rallies in downtown Chicago and across the country.

"Whether you are an undocumented person coming out to say 'I'm unafraid, I exist and I will resist' or whether you're an ally who wants to help in any way you can, we need your voice," Gutierrez said. "We don't believe in the Trump administration's attempts to separate our communities. Regardless of the criminalization, we are still human."

For more information about OCAD, visit: ORGANIZEDCOMMUNITIES.ORG .

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