A small but enthusiastic crowd gathered outside City Hall in East Chicago Saturday to rail against deportations taking place at the Gary/Chicago International Airport.
Past protests have been held at the airport, but this time immigration advocates wanted to establish a presence in a community with a high Hispanic population, said Lisa Valle, of Northwest Indiana Resist, which organized the rally.
Saturday’s protest took place as four uniformed police officers looked on in the background. Valle said she worried their presence might have kept undocumented immigrants from attending the rally.
The Gary airport has been used to aid in deportations by the Immigration Customs Enforcement agency since 2013. Typically, undocumented immigrants have been brought from a Chicago-area detention center after a judge has ordered their deportation, and they are usually flown out of the Gary airport to Texas.
On Saturday, several speakers spoke of the impact of deportations on families.
“The deportations and family separations are cruel and inhumane,” said rally co-organizer Ruth Needleman, who alternated between English and Spanish as she delivered her speech.
She called family separations a tool of “white suppression” and genocide.
In the spring, the Trump administration began a “zero tolerance” immigration policy that left more than 2,300 families of undocumented immigrants separated. Trump has since halted the policy and a federal judge ordered the government to reunite children with their parents.
“The government has used family separation to kill resistance, that is the end objective,” said Needleman, who said people are led in shackles onto a plane on Fridays at the Gary airport.
Earlier this month, a group of Chicago politicians called for Chicago to yank its funding from the airport because they say it enables deportations.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson has said the airport receives about $2 million annually from the federal government for capital improvements and $500,000 each year for operations, per an agreement with ICE.
ICE maintains a contract with a private operator at the airport for the deportation flights.
While several speakers addressed the audience, Valle moved through the crowd collecting money she said would go toward the purchase of a billboard on Interstate 80/94 to protest the airport deportations.
She said about $1,000 more was needed.
Lorell Kilpatrick, of Black Lives Matter-Northwest Indiana, called Saturday’s East Chicago location an ideal choice.
“This will continue to be a hunting ground for deportations,” she said. “Our lives matter. They have to, without our lives this system wouldn’t work.”
Jose Bustos, of East Chicago, said his family in Mexico is providing food and water for a caravan of Central Americans trying to make their way to the U.S. for asylum.
“A corrupt government has pushed them out, but President Trump uses sound bites to instill fear to his base,” Bustos said.
Bustos, who formerly managed the Immigration Support and Assistance Center in East Chicago, said he plans to open a new agency in early November to aid immigrants in the city’s Salvation Army, 513 W. Chicago Ave.
“I’m going to call it ‘Esperanza,’ which means hope,” he said. “People are afraid right now. They’re in the shadows even more.”
Carole Carlson is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.