Civil Disobedience at the Secure Communities Hearing

By Ben Small

See photo album from the rally below.

On Wednesday, August 17th 2011, CAIR-Chicago staff attorney, Rabya Khan, and communications intern, Becky Fogel, attended a public hearing held by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to discuss the Secure Communities program. The event ended in civil disobedience led by local youth and the arrest of six attendees. The program aims to identify and deport undocumented immigrants that are also criminal offenders. However, it has proved to be more effective at removing non-criminals, breaking up families and instilling fear in innumerable harmless people across the United States. Nearly half of all those that have been deported in Illinois alone have never been convicted of any crime.

Activists from the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and the Immigrant Youth Justice League (IYJL) gathered outside before the hearing and formed a sit-down protest, blocking a street intersection. They demanded that the only viable solution to the failings of Secure Communities is to terminate the program. The police eventually forced protesters off the streets and the events only caused a slight delay to the proceedings. Yet, the hearing was further delayed when the police stopped letting people into Ibew Hall for the event. Only after the chants of “let them in” rang around the hall and the verification that there was a lawful number of people in the building could the hearing eventually advance.

The board at the hearing was made up of members of the Chicago Bar Foundation, representatives of DHS as well as other attorneys affiliated with immigration organizations. Speeches were made by people who have been affected by Secure Communities. This included an elderly, Caucasian male who has been working in manual labor all his life alongside immigrants. An attorney named Moni Valasquez from the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) had a client affected by Secure Communities speak. The overwhelming feeling at the hearing was that the program is ineffective and the source of fear and injustice for countless within this country’s borders.

The hearing was interrupted by Alaa Mukahhal who commandeered the microphone to launch into a passionate and animated speech about her and her family’s experiences as undocumented inhabitants of the US under the dread of Secure Communities. She rallied the crowd to join her and five others to walk out of the building, right then and there, to intentionally obstruct traffic and put themselves under the risk of being arrested and, thus, potentially deported.

Hundreds of protesters left Ibew Hall and blocked the streets outside for nearly an hour, for the most part, in a relatively placid manner. Trouble eventually ensued when a group decided to block the on-ramp to the Kennedy Expressway. One man in particular was chased down and arrested as he began to make his way to the expressway proper. At this point the protest got physical with three police vans arriving on the scene, arresting five others with makeshift plastic handcuffs and charging them with mob action misdemeanors. They were released at 4am the next morning, ordered to do community service and handed a pending court date of September 8th. Their futures remain in the balance.

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