Saul Quevedo bought his home in Calumet City six years ago, a few years after the Great Recession pummeled housing values in this suburb that borders Hammond, Indiana.
“This place was desolate,” Quevedo, 33, told me when I visited. “Mexicans came here. Housing was cheap. People have contributed to a better economy. They’ve grown the community.”
You can see the impact of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in the shops and restaurants that have sprouted in the last several years in this town of about 37,000. In the last Census, 70 percent of Calumet City’s residents were African American and 15 percent were Hispanic. The latter number is likely to increase in the 2020 Census.
Quevedo, an undocumented immigrant, and others say they help to keep this town afloat by paying property taxes and other fees. Now they want something from Cal City leaders: protection from President Donald Trump and his promise to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.
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Since Trump was elected, there has been widespread panic in communities across the U.S. that are home to undocumented immigrants. In Calumet City, some residents and the advocacy group United Workers’ Center want leaders to pass a sanctuary ordinance that would limit when city cops could turn over undocumented immigrants to immigration authorities.
The town passed a sanctuary resolution in 2009, but an ordinance carries more legal weight.
Residents want an ordinance similar to one passed recently in Oak Park. Chicago and Cook County also have ordinances that cut back on local cops acting as de facto immigration agents. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement still can conduct raids or make arrests at will, but the ordinances typically require ICE to produce warrants for cooperation from local authorities.
But there is something else at the heart of residents’ frustration in Calumet City. For years they have felt marginalized by the town’s leaders. Water bills have gone up significantly. The Chicago Tribune reported last year that their town had high levels of lead contamination. The Better Government Association reported in 2014 that Calumet City had been sued 28 times from 2008 to mid-2013 for police misconduct.
Last month, the United Workers’ Center, formerly the Immigrant Workers’ Project, and a group of residents held a candidates’ forum for those running for mayor, clerk, treasurer and aldermen in the Feb. 28 primary.
The Northwest Indiana Times reported that for a while only one candidate showed up. Three more eventually arrived. It was disappointing to organizers who had made repeated attempts to invite city officials and candidates. There was a good turnout of residents — about 75 to 100 people, according to the Times.
“All in all I thought it was a well-run and productive evening… except for the fact that so few candidates attended,” George Grenchik of the Times wrote on his blog.
I reached out to Mayor Michelle Markiewicz Qualkinbush, but she did not respond to messages. Some residents met with her recently but still had questions after the meeting, Mary Claire Schmit of the United Workers’ Center said.
Residents say they are afraid of the cops. They believe something as random as a checkpoint set up by police to ticket people without fastened seat belts could jumpstart the deportation process.
“I don’t call police if we hear gunshots,” Adriana Zaragoza says. “We do nothing.”
“Why call?” Lorena Marin asked. “They’re going to ask if I’m legal.”
Residents want to go back to shopping and eating out at local restaurants.
But first they want assurances from the mayor that it is safe to do so.