For undocumented Chicagoans, a knock on the door means catastrophe.
Some Polish immigrants install doorbells because the sound is less threatening, said Grazyna Zajaczkowska, director of immigration services for the Polish American Association. They also won’t answer the door unless they already know who’s there.
“Every knock on the door for the undocumented is a big deal,” she said.
Though President Donald Trump’s proposed wall along the Mexican border has become one symbol of the illegal immigration issue, many of Chicago’s undocumented residents arrive from overseas. They don’t walk; they fly.
And the number of Europeans being deported is rising, and that worries the thousands of undocumented Europeans in Chicago — about 11,000, according to a 2014 report from the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
Through June 24, about 1,300 Europeans had been removed from the United States since Oct. 1, 2016. That compares to 1,450 during the entire 2016 fiscal year, according to The Associated Press.
Though Europeans are a smaller group than the 155,000 Latin American and 12,000 Asian undocumented residents in the city, representatives from Chicago-based organizations for Irish, British, Polish and other Western European communities said Trump’s crackdown on immigration has led to “heightened tension” and increased use of immigration services.
“I think they are all [feeling] the same type of fear,” said Chicago businessman Billy Lawless, a Galway native who owns several Chicago restaurants. He also serves in the Irish Senate, representing the Irish diaspora.
Trump’s initiative to release 10,000 additional U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement representatives throughout the U.S. contributed to the fear of deportations, Lawless said.
Regardless of where immigrants are from, he said, “they all came here because they want to better themselves.”
Cyril Regan, chairman of Chicago Celts for Immigration Reform, lived undocumented in New York City and New Jersey during the 1980s. He was never really afraid, he said.
“It was never like this,” Regan said. “I would be in fear of getting deported now, most definitely.”
There are about 5,000 undocumented Irish immigrants in the Chicago area, Regan said. His organization has been telling undocumented residents to “keep your heads down,” he said.
Chicago is a sanctuary city — for now. That means city agencies are prohibited from asking about immigration status and police won’t detain undocumented immigrants unless they are wanted on a criminal warrant or arrested for a serious crime.
On July 25, the Justice Department announced it would no longer hand out grant money to certain sanctuary cities including Chicago unless they allow immigration authorities to access local jails and prisons, and give authorities notice before an undocumented immigrant wanted by the government is released.
Earlier this month, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the city would sue the Trump administration, claiming the new requirements are unconstitutional.
The number of undocumented Poles in Chicago could range from “a thousand to up to thousands and thousands,” Zajaczkowska said. About 1,500 people use the Polish American Association’s immigration services. Zajaczkowska said her team does not ask residents about immigration status.
The organization, 3834 N Cicero Ave., collaborates with the DePaul University and Chicago Legal Clinics and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrants and Refugees to provide information to Poles about the rights they hold as immigrants.
At the Center for Irish Immigration Services in Chicago, which serves Irish, British and Western European populations, many who have “legal status in some way, shape, or form,” now “want to get it finalized,” said executive director Michael Collins.
The organization has recently seen an increase in citizenship applications, as well as people getting married and filing paperwork to finalize their status.
“Due to the rhetoric from the current administration, it’s been a motivation for people to do this sooner rather than later,” Collins said.
Others, however, are “packing up and leaving,” Regan said.
“It’s hard, especially these days,” Zajaczkowska said. “Even if they are undocumented and have been residing in the space for a long time and have children, they decide on leaving for Europe.”
Young undocumented Europeans are concerned about whether the federal policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals will remain in place, Zajaczkowska said. That policy allows certain people who came to the United States as children to request consideration of deferred action for a period of two years, which they can also renew.
“Quite often they don’t even know their own country,” Zajaczkowska said.
Regan said he knows undocumented Irish immigrants who own businesses, employ hundreds of people and even have grandchildren.
“They are paying Social Security and their taxes, and there isn’t anything that they can do,” he said. “I can’t get my arms around it.”
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