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Immigration groups counter ICE ‘Citizens Academy’ with plans for a know-your-rights workshop

Immigration advocates call the ICE program an example of white supremacy and fear it will harm immigrants.

Protesters hold up signs during a protest outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office at 101 W. Ida B. Wells Drive in the Loop, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020.
Protesters hold up signs during a demonstration outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office Tuesday.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Immigration advocates plan to hold a “people’s academy” to counter efforts by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to create a “Citizens Academy.”

Activists announced plans Tuesday outside of the federal agency’s field office in the Loop while people held signs stating, “Abolish ICE” and “Reinvest in communities.” Organizers were still working out the details, but they plan to have a teach-in style event where immigrants will learn about what rights they have if confronted by an immigration agent.

The people’s academy will start Sept. 15, which is the same day the federal agency plans to start their own academy in Chicago. On Monday, another group of immigration advocates announced plans for a march through the Loop as part of their opposition to ICE’s academy.

Sandra Diaz, of Mano a Mano Family Resource Center, speaks to the media during a protest outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office at 101 W. Ida B. Wells Dr in South Loop, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020.
Sandra Diaz, of Mano a Mano Family Resource Center, speaks during a protest outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office Tuesday.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The federal agency has said the academy is meant to give residents insight into its operations, and it’s not supposed to train people to do the job of immigration agents.

“The Citizens Academy also affords ICE the opportunity to hear from participants, understand their perspectives and debunk myths,” ICE said in a news release.

The six-week academy will include an overview of immigration history, a demonstration of the training immigration officers go through, a tour of a jail housing detainees and information about the division that oversees flights that deport people, according to an ICE official.

But advocates have pushed back against the academy, describing it as an example of white supremacy and fearing it will harm immigrants.

“This is a coordinated attack that requires a coordinated political response, and we are ready,” said Sandra Diaz, from the suburban Mano a Mano Family Resource Center, which provides social services to immigrants.

Diaz and other advocates called on the agency to end the planned academy and urged citizens to register to vote in the upcoming presidential election. Like other groups calling for the defunding of local police, the advocates called for the government to defund ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Kobi Guillory, with the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, called for solidarity among Black and Brown communities, describing their modern-day struggles to past civil rights movements. He called for officials to defund police, saying officers aren’t equipped to address the root causes of violence.

Kobi Guillory, with the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, speaks with the media during a protest outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office at 101 W. Ida B. Wells Dr in South Loop, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020.
Kobi Guillory, of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, takes part in a protest Tuesday outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“We have to stand up with solidarity the same way that our ancestors stood up when they attacked us when we were trying to be free from slavery, the same way that our ancestors stood up when they attacked us from when we were trying to be free from Jim Crow,” Guillory said.

Fasika Alem, of the United African Organization, called changes at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services such as an increase in fees for certain applications an attack on Black and Brown communities. She said the United African Organization has helped nearly 200 people who have pending citizenship applications, which she attributes to a mismanagement of the federal agency.

“And all this right before the election,” she said. “We know what you are doing.”

Shutdowns related to the coronavirus pandemic have helped fuel a backlog of naturalization cases. Across the country, more than 700,000 people had pending applications as of March 31, according to the most recent data available from USCIS.

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from the Chicago Community Trust.