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Thousands rally downtown to protest ICE raids as Little Village streets empty out

Demonstrators at Daley Plaza Saturday held signs that read “close the camps” and “stop deportations now,” while business slowed for a shop owner in Little Village.

Demonstrators make their way through the Loop on Saturday to protest the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
Demonstrators make their way through the Loop on Saturday to protest the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
Nader Issa/Sun-Times

With widespread deportation raids anticipated to start this weekend, there was a stark contrast Saturday between Chicago’s lively downtown rally and the quiet streets of a Southwest Side neighborhood that many immigrants call their home.

In the Loop, thousands hit the streets for a planned rally and march to protest the Trump administration’s immigration policies. Meanwhile, in Little Village, a predominantly Mexican American neighborhood on the Southwest Side, residents stayed home or out of sight, making for a quiet afternoon on typically bustling 26th Street.

At the protest, which started with a rally at Daley Plaza, demonstrators held signs that read “close the camps” and “stop deportations now,” with a large sign hanging from the side of the Daley Center reading “End detention welcome immigrants.”

”It’s about damn time we tell this racist president loud and clear: stop criminalizing desperation,” said U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill., who represents many majority Latino communities, including Little Village and Humboldt Park.

During his speech, Garcia, who immigrated to the United States in 1965 with his family, spoke passionately against the “cruel and inhumane policies of this administration,” and warned residents to be vigilant.

“All of our rights are under attack,” Garcia said. “Look around you. Look at the community that we have built here in the Chicagoland community. This is what Donald Trump is trying to destroy. To rip us apart. To dehumanize us.”

Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton, who followed Garcia at the podium, said she is “proud to say I stand with all our immigrant and refugee communities.”

”Here in Illinois we are making it abundantly clear to everyone watching, including Donald Trump, that Illinois is and always will be a welcoming state,” Stratton said.

After the rally, a march stepped off through downtown, starting south on Clark Street from the plaza and spanning several blocks through the Loop to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) field office at Clark Street and Ida B. Wells Drive.

Chicago police estimated the crowd peaked at about 5,000 participants.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot did not attend the rally, saying instead she planned to spend the day in the city’s neighborhoods. She appeared on CNN in the morning and said Chicago police “will not help or facilitate” efforts by ICE officials.

“We cannot have the police on one hand asking [residents] for their support to help keep people safe in this city and then facilitating a weaponized agency like ICE,” Lightfoot said.

Several immigrant rights groups this week renewed their call for the mayor to sign an executive order permanently barring the Department of Homeland Security and any of its agencies from accessing city databases. While Lightfoot promised the city will not assist ICE agents, she has said she won’t sign an executive order.

Bilal Mujahid (right) stands with his family Saturday at a rally in the Loop to show his support for immigrants.
Bilal Mujahid (right) stands with his family Saturday at a rally in the Loop to show his support for immigrants.
Justin Jackson/Sun-Times

Bilal Mujahid, 42, and his wife brought their children to the Daley Plaza rally from the western suburbs because they “wanted them to know it’s our responsibility to stand up when bad things are happening in our country.”

Mujahid, who immigrated from Pakistan, said it was “heartening” to see so many people who aren’t immigrants protesting.

”People who don’t really have a direct relationship to it are still taking the time to come out and make their voices heard,” Mujahid said.

Business drops for Little Village shop owner

While Mujahid and thousands more packed downtown streets, Adolfo Peña said his shoes and clothing store on 26th Street in Little Village saw a sharp drop in business Saturday.

“When this garbage starts, people don’t come out,” Peña said. “Business suffers. People are even scared to go to church.”

Peña, who immigrated from Mexico in 1972, has been a small-business owner in the neighborhood for almost 30 years.

“I’m scared [for the neighborhood] because they talk about separating families, and that is a horrible thing to go through,” Peña said. “I feel for them.”

A normally busy 26th Street in Little Village was nearly empty Saturday ahead of anticipated raids that will be carried out by ICE starting Sunday.
A normally busy 26th Street in Little Village was nearly empty Saturday ahead of anticipated raids that will be carried out by ICE starting Sunday. Business owner Adolfo Pena said he saw a sharp drop in business Saturday as many customers chose to stay home.
Justin Jackson/ Sun-Times