Direct action against deportations

Posted May 6, 2010

Whew, what a week. Last Tuesday, April 27, I intended to rush home from an exhilarating 12-hour protest at the Broadview Detention Center and write about it here. After a vigil of more than 150 people, 75 of us had spent the night talking, dancing, and picketing before an unassuming brick building in suburban Chicago. This is a place used to process captive, undocumented workers – the five vanfulls that night are just a handful from more than one thousand immigrants who are deported each day. In the morning (just after I had to leave to give someone a ride to work) 24 participants were arrested blocking a bus of deportees.

Today, a similar action took place at ICE headquarters in Los Angeles.

Here’s a video I made from last week:

Unfortunately, the night was not only exhilarating but exhausting, and when I woke up from an unplanned but unavoidable nap there were other things on my plate than writing. However, one of the great things about the internet (and social movements) is that other folks very ably wrote their own reflections. So, check out the following, followed by some of my own brief thoughts:

Miguel, one of the 24 who did the civil disobedience, wrote Why I Risk Arrest to Stop Deportations, which appeared on the website of the Immigrant Youth Justice League just an hour before his arrest – later accompanied by a photo and video of the moment:

My grandfather had worked for the United States during the Bracero program, one that sought Mexican labor during a time when the U.S. lacked it […] When my father embarked on his trip to Chicago, he used his fathers’ Bracero social security number to work—I had stumbled upon his mica chueqa.

It was in this context, and with these conversations, that I learned that my parents were at one point, undocumented immigrants, and that I had inherited a privilege from their journey. At the University, I’ve met peers who are undocumented and who can’t do many of the things that I, as a citizen, take for granted. I’ve realized that citizenship gives me a voice that I can use to decry injustice and to stand along side with undocumented immigrants […]

Given my background, how I’ve inherited my privilege and what immigrants endure, as a U.S. citizen, it is the least I can do.

The next day, Micah wrote a more newsy piece, Calling For End to Deportations, 24 Arrested in Broadview on the local blog Gaper’s Block featuring some photos that I took:

But if today’s action is any indication, activists on the Left appear to have learned something after watching a tepidly progressive health care reform bill get shouted down as an effort to “pull the plug on grandma.” Immigrant rights activists are going on the offensive, ostensibly in an effort to gain and maintain control of the debate to prevent a group like the Tea Partiers from taking it. Undocumented youth in Chicago held a “coming-out” march last month, proclaiming themselves “undocumented and unafraid;” on Saturday, immigrants and their advocates will take to the streets with unions for May Day.

Yana, a journalist for TruthOut (and a neighbor of mine) wrote Immigrant Rights Activists in Chicago Join the National Fray with some of her own great photos:

Activists delayed the bus for nearly two hours, with the episode ending in the arrest of some of the most prominent members of Chicago’s immigrant rights community. The protest, which called for President Obama to issue an executive order to end all deportations, was part of a coordinated, nationwide chain of actions in the wake of the passage of what may be the most restrictive immigration bill in US history, signed into law in Arizona on Friday.

Finally, one of the speakers at the opening rally, Mario (and also a neighbor) wrote No one will be deported today over at Socialist Worker:

The dancing was interrupted around 2:30 a.m. by shining headlights in the distance […] Jose Herrera, an organizer with the Justice Mission and a member of IYJL, stepped up to the mic and explained, “Inside that van are our brothers and sisters.” Pointing to the end of the street, he said, “More trucks will come and line up behind this one all along here…the people inside will make their way inside the building and tomorrow morning will be driven to the airport to be deported.”

A sense of fear and anger brewed within the crowd, and a picket was soon formed, chanting loudly so the detainees inside the van could hear. As the vans kept coming, the crowd chanted louder and louder. At about 4 a.m., the vans made their way inside the compound and the people inside their tents.

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The vigil Monday night and civil disobedience Tuesday morning were important and received good media attention. The size, and importance of the event was swollen by the recent passage of SB1070 in Arizona, which legalizes racial profiling and takes a iron fist approach to “immigration enforcement.”

For me, though, the most powerful part of the protest was in the early morning hours, around 3am, when the vans began to arrive.

On a sound system powered by a generator (that’s the loud chugging in the video), Jose narrated the procedure (as Mario lays out in his article.) Broadview is a regular site of vigils and several people present that night were familiar with the routine of vans arriving in the still of night and waiting for their passengers to be processed.

Of course this night was not routine. As we picketed and chanted in the chill (40 degrees gets cold after all night!), from time to time someone would take up the microphone and speak directly to the detainees hidden inside the vans, telling them what was going on and to not be afraid. Many of the lead organizers are undocumented and a few are themselves in deportation proceedings. Although it was not the kind of dramatic moment (or the hour) to attract TV news cameras, this dialogue of solidarity was deeply human and very moving.