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 April 6, 2017

"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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