[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #13 in April 2013]
Under the Obama Administration, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has deported 1.4 million people from the US. This is more than any other US administration. The deportation process implies a constant need to “house” deportees: on any given day there are at least 400,000 immigrants in detention spaces—prisons.
One way this hits close to home is through the construction of “detention centers,” a result of DHS’s new “detention reform” policy. In early 2012, our immigrant rights collective, No Name Collective, learned about the plan to build an immigrant detention center just south of Chicago, in the village of Crete, Illinois. After making calls and researching the issue, we found that some Chicago-based NGOs, members of the Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants , had known about this for quite some time and were already organizing around this proposed detention center—yet these groups had not informed a wider array of organizations within the Chicago immigrant community.
In a February 13th public meeting about this proposed immigrant prison, some residents from Crete raised concerns about why the detention center was to be kept a “local” issue—one of the attendees stated that he did not want to have buses of “brown people” coming into his village to express opposition. Except for a couple of individuals, including No Name Collective, no one at the meeting responded to this comment.
The No Name Collective felt that it was vital to share the information we had gathered about this proposed plan to build a prison in Crete. Since we had made many friends and allies over a two-year effort to build a campaign for a Moratorium on Deportations (MDC), we reached out to our network to expose the issue within affected communities. During an organizing meeting at Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission, a wellknown faithbased grassroots organization in Chicago, we discussed the proposed plan for the prison. According to documents presented by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and Crete to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), it would be a state-of-the-art facility that included medical, dental, and mental health services; natural/ambient light; indoor and outdoor recreation areas (such as table tennis, aerobics, library, soccer field, softball, walking track); religious services and social programs; and ethnically based cafeteria-style meal service with menu options. In addition the proposed prison needed to be family-friendly with the capacity to house entire families for short and long periods of time.1
When members of Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission learned about this, with no hesitation or theorizing about the pros and cons, they collectively declared that there was no way they would allow the construction of this proposed prison to happen. Our collective decision was, “We will go down to Crete and deliver our message personally. We might not change the minds of the proponents (Crete, ICE, CCA) of this plan about why imprisonment, detention, and deportation are totally wrong and absurd and should not exist, but we will make it clear that if they continue with this idea of creating such structure to house individuals and entire families, Crete will have not one but many buses of brown people coming to their village.”
Without a budget, resources, or the support of mainstream immigration justice organizations, No Name Collective and Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission opted to use the resources available—our own bodies. We had three weeks to organize a 45-mile three-day walk from Chicago to Crete to deliver our messages. Our messages were clear: no detention of immigrants—not in any back yard! Our families are being torn apart, so we wanted to walk together as one large family. For us, the walk is an expression of the experiences of communities who have been criminalized. We are also committed to immigrant justice and to full human rights, full dignity, for all. We do not accept the division of good immigrants vs. criminals. Our signs read: borders and cages do not create just and safe communities— no borders, no cages!2
Our goals for the walk were to create awareness about the proposed prison and to draw attention to the efforts of NGOs and some residents of Crete to keep the struggle against the proposed prison quiet and local. We also wanted to intensify opposition to the prison, to be a catalyst and provoke others into action, and to contribute to a broader awareness campaign about immigrant detention and about the supposed reform of the detention system. By resisting and challenging the imposition of the federal government’s definition of housing for the undocumented immigrant population, this march enabled us to claim our own notion of home and place of belonging. We refused to accept their “family-friendly” and “state-of-the-art” prison. We refused to buy into their propaganda of job creation and local economic growth. We refused to be the captives and refused to be the captors. Instead we embarked on a 45-mile walk to denounce their “gated community” and to expose the ongoing negotiations among the federal (ICE), local (Village of Crete), and private (CCA) sectors.
Many people and groups offered us shelter, food, and water along the way. For many of the people on the walk, the action reminded them of their own journey of border crossing. One woman walked all 45 miles barefoot; another one stated, “When I immigrated to the US, I walked three days and nights along the USMexico desert without food or water. Doing this is very familiar and close to me.”
In a 45-mile walk for justice, we became a huge collective family. Our family ranged from young children to old adults. It included groups from across the social spectrum: faithbased groups, anarchists, anarcho-punks, nurses, street medics, anti-prison activists, immigrant rights activists, and nonpolitical, patriotic, undocumented, and many more people. There was extensive media coverage at the local and national levels; this gave visibility to the issue of the detention center and the struggle to stop it.
In May, ICE announced plans for a public meeting in Crete, hosted and moderated by former US Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. The meeting, scheduled for May 21, was meant to demonstrate that the congressman and ICE foster open, public political dialogue around the issue, and were seeking public input. No Name Collective questioned the legitimacy of those claims. We decided to participate in this meeting through an action called “Shut Down ICE: No Dialogue With State Terror,” and invited anti-war and anti- NATO activists to travel to Crete with us. However, the ICE meeting was canceled at the last minute, with Jackson calling anti- NATO and pro-immigrant advocates a “security concern” for his district. Homeland Security dispatched dozens of riot police to Crete in anticipation of our protest, which shocked residents of this small village where the police force comprises only a handful of officers. In response, No Name Collective denounced this as an effort to shut down political dissent; we continued the action targeting ICE headquarters in downtown Chicago instead of Crete. A group of 50 or so people gathered in Union Park with a 100 lb. block of ice. We then marched to ICE headquarters downtown, dragging the block of ice with us, to stage our own version of a “public meeting with ICE” in the streets. Our small group was joined by hundreds of anti-NATO and Occupy activists for a large-scale sit-in.3 After months of struggle by local groups from different communities, on June 11, plans to build a new immigrant prison in Crete were defeated. The Village of Crete Board of Trustees voted not to continue negotiations with ICE and CCA for the construction of the prison. We are amazed and inspired by the grassroots organizing that made this possible— from neighborhood and church workshops that focused on education, to street actions that turned outrage into defiance. The Concerned Citizens of Crete mobilized to raise hell in their community. They were joined by Chicago Action Medical, No Name Collective, Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission, undocumented families, anti-prison organizers, and many more allies who participated in the three-day walk/protest; and finally the staged massive sit-in at ICE headquarters in Chicago, supported by Occupy Chicago and hundreds of anti-NATO advocates. Through all these actions, we showed that we are powerful! With no resources and no staff, hundreds of people came together to confront two giants— ICE and CCA—and we won!
Yet the struggle continues as the plans of building a prison for immigrants has turned to the city of Joliet. Currently Joliet is in negotiations with ICE and CCA, and it seems that they are buying into the propaganda of the prison as a wonderful “gated community” that will bring jobs and economic growth to the city. Once again, we are organizing and mobilizing, speaking out and challenging the creation of prisons, resisting and combating the interconnected systems of oppression that we experience in everyday life. We will take it to the streets. No Borders, No Cages— Yes to People’s Power! ◊
1. For a pdf of this document, known as the White Papers, see http://moratoriumondeportations.files. wordpress.com/2012/02/the-white-papers.pdf
2. The principles for this action were distributed through the Moratorium on Deportations network online, in the media and on the T-shirts worn by participants during the walk. See http://moratoriumondeportations. org/crete-detention-center/ action-walk-to-crete
3. For more on this sequence of events, see http:// moratoriumondeportations.org/2012/05/21/ shut-down-i-c-e-continues-in-chica