Annibal, OCAD member giving testimony at ICE raids press conference on August 9th, 2016. Photo Courtesy
For a brief moment on Wednesday afternoon, the weight of Donald Trump’s presidency and the threat that poses to so many different communities in this country didn’t feel so heavy. Claudia Lucero, the Executive Director of the Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America (CRLN), stood tall behind the podium as she addressed the crowd with confidence and, above all, hope. Her brightly colored blouse seemed more symbolic than just a simple choice of dress.
Hosted by the CRLN at Old St. Patrick’s Church in Chicago’s Greektown neighborhood, dozens of people from a range of backgrounds joined together for the CRLN’s annual luncheon to honor Chicago’s Organized Communities Against Deportations (OCAD) in their fight to end unfair and inhumane immigration enforcement practices that impact immigrant communities.
As the CRLN’s new executive director, Lucero knows all too well what the life of an undocumented person is like. A Mexican immigrant, Lucero has been undocumented for 18 years and has faced her fair share of personal and professional obstacles. Despite the very dangerous threat that a Trump presidency presents for undocumented individuals and communities, Lucero used this opportunity as a source of inspiration to continue forward with the fight for justice.
“As we’ve seen with Trump,” she said, “people who are driven by fear and their own insecurities have directed those feelings at the ‘other,’ people like us, but that doesn’t mean we give up the fight for humane and just conditions for our communities.”
At the end of the day, Lucero stressed that undocumented folks and communities, in this instance the Latinx community, are simply striving for a dignified way of living. More importantly, she continued to explain that the unjust and unfair attacks on undocumented communities is a moral violation, and we as people have a moral obligation to protect those who are facing violence.
One of the organizations holding true to that moral obligation in Chicago is OCAD. Reyna Wences and Berenice Alonzo, both members of OCAD, were in attendance to discuss the framework of OCAD’s mission and their involvement in the Not One More deportation campaign.
Wences, who came to the United States as a 9-year-old, explained the personal toll that having someone like Trump as president takes on undocumented individuals and communities.
“Trump represents the hate and racism that we as people of color experience,” Wences said. “He is the bully at school, the person who whispers about whether or not we have papers.”
However despite all of the terror and instability that Trump invokes, Wences was reminded of the resiliency of undocumented communities and people of color. Regardless of the outcome of the election, people still came out to vote and supported one another in the fight for achieving a brighter and more inclusive future moving forward.
One of the people who has felt the burden of being undocumented and unwelcomed in a foreign land was Alonzo and her husband, Jose Juan. In 2009, Jose Juan, like so many others have done, made a mistake. He was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol and was ordered to spend 90 days in jail followed by a sentence of three months probation. But that wasn’t all.
After getting out of jail and adhering to his probation guidelines, Jose Juan was formally ordered for deportation in 2012. With three young children, Alonzo and her family filed appeal after appeal in hopes of keeping her husband in the country with his family. Unfortunately, each of these pleas were denied and Jose Juan was ordered to purchase a plane ticket back to Mexico for April 15, 2015, the day after his birthday.
Throughout the process of filing appeals, Alonzo and her family met with many different lawyers. When it felt like all hope was lost, Alonzo was finally directed to the Southwest Suburban Immigrant Project (SSIP) located in suburban Bolingbrook. It was there that she was connected with the CRLN and introduced to the idea of finding sanctuary at a church in the city.
Alonzo admitted that at the time she hadn’t ever heard of sanctuary, and wasn’t all too sure what it meant to be offered sanctuary from a church. She and her husband discussed the option and continually debated whether or not it would be better for them to travel back to Mexico together with their children. Alonzo’s husband shared her uncertainty and told her not to worry, that at the very worst he would be gone for a few weeks and would return soon to them in Chicago.
The uncertainty for the future was eating at Alonzo and her children. Her kids constantly asked about what was going to happen to their father. Where was he going? Were they going to be able to see him again? After some time, Alonzo and her family reached an agreement with the CRLN and the University Church in Hyde Park, who were going to open their doors and offer sanctuary for her husband.
As tears welled in her eyes, Alonzo extended her deepest thanks to everyone in attendance who had supported her family and many like hers in their fight to keep their families together. Thanks to the CRLN and OCAD, Alonzo, along with her husband and family, remain together and their children grow happier each day knowing that their father is safe and they get to see him every day.
While the primary focus of the afternoon was to honor OCAD and their efforts in Chicago, the event wasn’t complete until an official call to action was initiated by CRLN Public Policy Coordinator, Celeste Larkin.
As unfair and unjust policies directly impact Chicago’s Latinx and undocumented communities, they also have a much broader scope in the damage they do to countries throughout Latin America. Larkin urged those in the crowd to sign CRLN’s letter asking representatives to support H.R. 5474, the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act, which would suspend U.S. security aid to Honduras until the Honduran police and military demonstrate respect for human rights according to international standards. Additionally, Larkin urged folks to join the CRLN on Thursday, Nov. 17, as they gather and march to Representative Mike Quigley’s district office to demand that he votes no on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other free trade agreements like it.
Even in the darkest of times, there is always a light. The fight never stops or grows weary, it only grows stronger and more committed to achieving a more humane and inclusive society, one that includes people of color, indigenous people and undocumented communities. As the Dalai Lama said last week, “Indeed, what unites the two of us in friendship and collaboration is not shared politics or the same religion. It is something simpler: a shared belief in compassion, in human dignity, in the intrinsic usefulness of every person to contribute positively for a better and more meaningful world."
Parker Asmann is a 2015 graduate of DePaul University with degrees in Journalism and Spanish, along with a minor in Latin American and Latino Studies. He is currently residing in Chicago while focusing on issues of social justice and human rights. He is a member of El BeiSMans Editorial Board.