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Interviews for Resistance: How Criminalized Communities in Chicago Are Working Together

An immigrant rights organizer connects her work with the organizing being done in Black, Latino and Muslim communities.

Sarah Jaffe

"There is a lot of work to do for all of us. I will say that people should know that we are not alone in this fight," says Rosi Carrasco with Organized Communities Against Deportations. (Photo credit: Rosi Carrasco)

Wel­come to Inter­views for Resis­tance. Since elec­tion night 2016, the streets of the Unit­ed States have rung with resis­tance. Peo­ple all over the coun­try have wok­en up with the con­vic­tion that they must do some­thing to fight inequal­i­ty in all its forms. But many are won­der­ing what it is they can do. In this series, we’ll be talk­ing with expe­ri­enced orga­niz­ers, trou­ble­mak­ers and thinkers who have been doing the hard work of fight­ing for a long time. They’ll be shar­ing their insights on what works, what does­n’t, what’s changed and what is still the same.

"We are exploring new ways to work together because we can no longer afford to fight in isolated struggles."

Rosi Car­ras­co: My name is Rosi Car­ras­co. I am with Orga­nized Com­mu­ni­ties Against Depor­ta­tions (OCAD).

Sarah Jaffe: You are based in Chica­go where the oth­er night there was a shoot­ing of some­body by an ICE offi­cer. Correct?

Rosi: Yes, recent­ly.

Sarah: I know there has been a lot of orga­niz­ing in Chica­go in recent years around police shoot­ings. I would love to hear from you about how the orga­niz­ing around polic­ing and the orga­niz­ing around depor­ta­tions are con­nect­ing up in this case and in others.

Rosi: What we know for the fam­i­lies that we are work­ing with is that usu­al­ly, the first con­tact with the sys­tem is through the police. Then, fam­i­lies are sent to the depor­ta­tion pro­ceed­ings. We have fam­i­lies with DUIs, fam­i­lies that have traf­fic vio­la­tions out­side of Chica­go. They live in Chica­go. They live close to Chica­go and some­times they are dri­ving, but we have fam­i­lies that were dri­ving to their work and they were stopped for a minor traf­fic vio­la­tion and then they were turned in to ICE offi­cers. We know that a first encounter with police has been the way a fam­i­ly is sent up in depor­ta­tion proceedings.

The oth­er thing that we have learned is in the research the Chica­go Tri­bune did [in 2015] that DUI check­points are main­ly in com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, Black and Lati­no com­mu­ni­ties. In Jef­fer­son Park, the com­mu­ni­ty in which there are more acci­dents caused by DUI, for peo­ple dri­ving under the influ­ence of alco­hol and there have not been any check­points over there. For us, crim­i­nal­iza­tion is some­thing that is impact­ing our com­mu­ni­ties direct­ly in that way. We know that we are one of the com­mu­ni­ties that has been crim­i­nal­ized because if you don’t have doc­u­ments and you have a DUI, you could face depor­ta­tion, or if you had in the past a pos­ses­sion of mar­i­jua­na or any mis­take that you com­mit­ted in the past could make fam­i­lies face depor­ta­tion. This is some­thing we know is happening.

The oth­er thing we know is that what we talk about the police, there is an impact direct­ly, on the Black com­mu­ni­ties, the poor com­mu­ni­ties that live around, the Lati­no com­mu­ni­ties, the Mex­i­can com­mu­ni­ties, where police is real­ly vio­lent, right? Because of the news and the work that we have been doing with the Black com­mu­ni­ty, we know how this impacts their lives too. OCAD is part of a nation­al net­work called Mijente. Through this con­nec­tion, we have been able to con­nect with com­mu­ni­ties fight­ing against crim­i­nal­iza­tion like the Move­ment for Black Lives and here in Chica­go direct­ly with BYP100. We have decid­ed that we no longer can talk about safe­ty of our com­mu­ni­ties with­out address­ing the criminalization.

We are work­ing togeth­er in dif­fer­ent areas. One is, of course, the city poli­cies of Chica­go. We have this city ordi­nance that this ordi­nance has four excep­tions or carve-outs, the police could call ICE if peo­ple have a crim­i­nal war­rant or is in the gang data­base. In those cas­es, police could call ICE. This is some­thing that we want to make sure that if the City of Chica­go is call­ing itself a Wel­com­ing City” or sanc­tu­ary city, we need to make sure that there is no encounter with the police. The oth­er thing is that when we talk about the safe­ty of com­mu­ni­ties, we know that we no longer can believe just in the police because not only Lati­no or poor com­mu­ni­ties or undoc­u­ment­ed com­mu­ni­ties have been crim­i­nal­ized, but also Black com­mu­ni­ty, poor peo­ple in Black com­mu­ni­ties. So we are work­ing togeth­er try­ing to rede­fine the con­cept of safe­ty and, of course, to change the Wel­com­ing City ordinance.

Sarah: I was real­ly struck by the ques­tion of what a sanc­tu­ary city real­ly is when we are look­ing at all of these issues togeth­er. Give us a lit­tle bit more back­ground about the work you guys have been doing in Chica­go around depor­ta­tion before Trump was pres­i­dent and how that has changed and stepped up in the last few months.

Rosi: OCAD was formed at the end of 2012. As you prob­a­bly know, dur­ing the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion more than two mil­lion peo­ple were deport­ed. We pre­cise­ly formed OCAD as a way to orga­nize with our com­mu­ni­ty because of the impact of depor­ta­tions of the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion. What we do is when a fam­i­ly approach­es, we try to orga­nize with the fam­i­ly because we know that some­times fam­i­lies do not have a legal solu­tion. There is no legal way to have papers because there is no pol­i­cy in place to move that fact, to change that fact.

What we do is we orga­nize pub­lic posi­tions, we orga­nize ral­lies, we orga­nize with fam­i­lies, make phone calls. That is what we were doing. We made phone calls to the ICE offi­cers to appeal to the fact that fam­i­lies are liv­ing here and work­ing here and mak­ing con­tri­bu­tions to this soci­ety. Most of the fam­i­lies that we were orga­niz­ing with, they were not deport­ed, but we know that the sit­u­a­tion has changed because in the past, at least we could appeal to the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment and say, Look what the ICE offi­cers are doing here. They are vio­lat­ing the rights of peo­ple. They are not respect­ing us.” This was one of the pos­si­bil­i­ties, at least from the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment because the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion had this pol­i­cy with pri­or­i­ties with peo­ple that would be a pri­or­i­ty for depor­ta­tion, sup­pos­ed­ly peo­ple that are a threat to the nation­al secu­ri­ty of this coun­try. There was a kind of pol­i­cy in place that the idea that we could show that fam­i­lies have a good moral char­ac­ter. The offi­cer has the dis­cre­tion to allow those fam­i­lies to be here, to close the case and the fam­i­lies would be able to be here and they were request­ing every year to extend that per­mit. The solu­tion has nev­er been per­ma­nent, but at least fam­i­lies knew that they would be able to con­tin­ue liv­ing their lives here.

But those things have changed. Now we no longer have, at least from the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, there are no pri­or­i­ties. Every­one is a pri­or­i­ty regard­less if you are undoc­u­ment­ed and you live in this coun­try, accord­ing to the new poli­cies, ICE could detain you and deport you. That is one thing. The oth­er thing is the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment has been, I would say, encour­ag­ing offi­cers to be more vio­lent, to be less respect­ful. The way the pres­i­dent is talk­ing when he talks about undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants, he is cre­at­ing this offices of immi­grants that have com­mit­ted crimes, when crimes are hap­pen­ing in this coun­try for a long time, right? And instead of look­ing for a real solu­tion, they are clos­ing pro­grams for the youth.

For me, this fed­er­al gov­ern­ment is not look­ing for solu­tions. It has been, since the very begin­ning, look­ing for ways to make immi­grants the tar­get, or one of the tar­gets, of this new gov­ern­ment. So, this has changed. We are in the process of find­ing new ways to orga­nize with peo­ple. One of those ways is to under­stand we need to work with the oth­er com­mu­ni­ties that have been impact­ed by the pol­i­cy of this gov­ern­ment because the Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty and the Arab com­mu­ni­ty are also tar­gets. Just the two bans that the admin­is­tra­tion tried to avoid peo­ple com­ing from the coun­tries that they per­ceive as ter­ror­ists. All the Black com­mu­ni­ties that have been fac­ing racism for a long time.

I think that we are in the process of under­stand­ing that we need to rede­fine what we call safe­ty.” We need to rede­fine the way we have been orga­niz­ing. I think that this is some­thing new that we are start­ing to do, cre­ate con­nec­tions and find­ing ways to work with all of the oth­er com­mu­ni­ties to try to rede­fine what it means to have a safe com­mu­ni­ty and to include not only immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties, but also the Mus­lim and Arab com­mu­ni­ty, the Black com­mu­ni­ty, the LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ty — all the com­mu­ni­ties that have been the tar­gets of this admin­is­tra­tion. In a way, I think that we are already start­ing to change things with­in the way that we are organizing.

Sarah: In Chica­go, you have Rahm Emanuel as may­or who has said some things about want­i­ng to stand up to Trump, but what has been the reac­tion from him and from the alder­men and the state gov­ern­ment to the work you guys are doing and the demands you are mak­ing around the Wel­com­ing City ordinance?

Rosi: I remem­ber when I joined this effort to amend the Wel­com­ing City ordi­nance two years ago, hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions with the city, hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions with the police. It seemed that, at least the mes­sage was that, they were will­ing to change this, but until now we haven’t seen real change. I think we are still wait­ing for the may­or to real­ly show that he sup­ports not only the immi­grant com­mu­ni­ty but all com­mu­ni­ties. Trump is, again, tar­get­ing not only the immi­grant com­mu­ni­ty when he talks about send­ing the Nation­al Guard here to stop vio­lence. I think that is a mes­sage against poor com­mu­ni­ties, in gen­er­al, Black and Lati­no and Arab and Mus­lim and oth­er communities.

We feel we are still wait­ing to see if he real­ly is going to amend the Wel­com­ing City in a way that there is no col­lab­o­ra­tion between the police and ICE. That is one thing that is not hap­pen­ing yet. We are hav­ing not only meet­ings, we have dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ty gath­er­ings to talk about these issues. We have had press con­fer­ences to push the alder­men and the may­or to under­stand how impor­tant this issue is for our com­mu­ni­ties. For me, Trump has been already doing things to harm our com­mu­ni­ties since Day 1 and I haven’t seen, yet, the City of Chica­go real­ly stand­ing up against the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, but they could do a lot. They could do it if they want­ed to do it. We are going to con­tin­ue push­ing the city.

I know that we already intro­duced the Wel­com­ing City ordi­nance. Now we have had some of the alder­men, Car­los Rosa, one of the alder­men work­ing with us. Some of the alder­men have been work­ing with this coali­tion that we have to push for the Wel­com­ing City amend­ments. They already intro­duced a month ago the ordi­nance with­out the carve-outs, so we think that prob­a­bly next month, hope­ful­ly, we will be able to see if the may­or is with us or not. This is, for me, we say we have been work­ing for a long time and this is the time now to show that he real­ly sup­ports our community.

Sarah: I have been see­ing some things going around about the plans for May 1 and for a big strike. Chica­go tends to lead the way on things like that. I won­der if you can tell us any­thing that is being planned for May 1 in Chicago.

Rosi: I have attend­ed the week­ly meet­ing at Casa Michoacán, that is the place that his­tor­i­cal­ly we have met there since 2006. We have been meet­ing. We have state­ments doc­u­ment­ed. But basi­cal­ly, one of the main issues that we have decid­ed it will be dif­fer­ent now is that, this time, basi­cal­ly, we are try­ing to march in a dif­fer­ent way. We want to make sure that peo­ple impact­ed by the Trump admin­is­tra­tion will be at the fore­front of the march. That means peo­ple that have been the tar­get for vio­lence, for criminalization.

The dif­fer­ence now is we are col­lab­o­rat­ing. There is this call from the Move­ment for Black Lives to march on May 1, for one side, and for the oth­er side, we have the unions and the immi­grant com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­ing for May Day. Usu­al­ly, that is what is hap­pen­ing. But now, we are all work­ing togeth­er to make sure we have a huge march call­ing to stop the crim­i­nal­iza­tion of our com­mu­ni­ties. For me, this is a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent than it has been in the past because in that past we have said, Legal­iza­tion for all” or we have said, Work­ers’ rights for all.” This time we are say­ing, Resist racism in the com­mu­ni­ty.” We are say­ing, We are going to march because we want to stop crim­i­nal­iza­tion, crim­i­nal rights, and cre­ate tru­ly safe and healthy com­mu­ni­ties.” This is going to be a very dif­fer­ent march than in the past.

We are going to march togeth­er with the Move­ment for Black Lives, with the LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ty, with the Mus­lim and Arab com­mu­ni­ty, with the undoc­u­ment­ed com­mu­ni­ty, with the unions to defend the rights of all of us — even the right to orga­nize, the right to union­ize, the right for a healthy envi­ron­ment. We want to send a strong mes­sage that we are not going to allow this admin­is­tra­tion to divide us, that we want respect for our rights. We also are orga­niz­ing not only May Day. On April 4, we had an event that we orga­nized on the anniver­sary of the assas­si­na­tion of Mar­tin Luther King. It is an event orga­nized togeth­er with the Move­ment for Black Lives in Chica­go and the idea is that we could share our strug­gles and find ways to cre­ate con­nec­tions and to find ways to cre­ate safer com­mu­ni­ties togeth­er. Not only in terms of poli­cies, but also in terms of in our own com­mu­ni­ties, how can we make sure that peo­ple feel safe, that our rights are respect­ed regard­less of our reli­gion, regard­less of race, regard­less of our skin color?

We already had an event that was more than 100 peo­ple from about 30 orga­ni­za­tions. It was great to learn from each other’s strug­gles to under­stand bet­ter what is hap­pen­ing in our com­mu­ni­ties. This is a con­tin­u­a­tion of that. Then, we march on May 1. This is, for me, some­thing new. We are explor­ing new ways to col­lab­o­rate. We are explor­ing new ways to work togeth­er because we can no longer afford to fight in iso­lat­ed strug­gles. We need to fight not only to be in sol­i­dar­i­ty with each oth­er, but also to find ways to change the poli­cies of this admin­is­tra­tion. That means for us to bet­ter under­stand the oth­er com­mu­ni­ties that we are work­ing with.

Sarah: How can peo­ple keep up with you and with your work?

Rosi: We have com­mu­ni­ty assem­blies the first and the third week of each month. We have our Face­book page. It is Orga­nized Com­mu­ni­ties Against Depor­ta­tions. We usu­al­ly put our event there because we don’t have one spe­cif­ic place to do our meet­ings. We also have a web­page.

Sarah: Any­thing else that peo­ple should know about your work and what is going on in Chicago?

Rosi: Basi­cal­ly, I will say that it is impor­tant to be part of the move­ment. If you don’t have an orga­ni­za­tion, it is good to find a way to be part of one of the orga­ni­za­tions that have been fight­ing against racism, against crim­i­nal­iza­tion. There is a lot of work to do for all of us. I will say that peo­ple should know that we are not alone in this fight. There are a lot of peo­ple in this coun­try that believe in jus­tice and there are a lot of peo­ple fight­ing and orga­niz­ing to change things not only talk­ing about laws and poli­cies, but also talk­ing about the way we live in the com­mu­ni­ties. This is a time to real­ly change and to find ways to work with each oth­er in sol­i­dar­i­ty with oth­er com­mu­ni­ties that have been impact­ed by this admin­is­tra­tion. It is a time of oppor­tu­ni­ty for us to con­tin­ue orga­niz­ing with those com­mu­ni­ties and it is a time to change things in our own communities.

Inter­views for Resis­tance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assis­tance from Lau­ra Feuille­bois and sup­port from the Nation Insti­tute. It is also avail­able as a pod­cast on iTunes. Not to be reprint­ed with­out permission. 

Sarah Jaffe is a for­mer staff writer at In These Times and author of Nec­es­sary Trou­ble: Amer­i­cans in Revolt , which Robin D.G. Kel­ley called The most com­pelling social and polit­i­cal por­trait of our age.” You can fol­low her on Twit­ter @sarahljaffe.
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