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Fighting Criminalization in All Its Forms, Powerful Coalition Builds Toward May Day

Momentum for May Day is building as immigration activists meet with Black, Arab, Muslim and LGBTQ groups.

Activists gather around a sign during a May Day march in Chicago, Illinois, May 1, 2012. (Photo: Sarah Ji)

Since election night 2016, the streets of the US 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 ongoing “Interviews for Resistance” series, experienced organizers, troublemakers and thinkers share their insights on what works, what doesn’t, what has changed and what is still the same. Today’s interview is the 27th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

Today we bring you a conversation with Rosi Carrasco from the Chicago-based group Organized Communities Against Deportations about the new sanctuary organizing that is connecting the struggle against policing in Black communities to the struggle against ICE in immigrant communities.

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

Rosi Carrasco: Yes, recently.

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.

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…. 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 … 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. Organized Communities Against Deportations (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 has four exceptions or carve-outs: the police could call ICE if people have a criminal warrant or [are] in the gang database…. 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 the 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.

Give us a little bit more background about the work you were doing in Chicago around deportation before Trump was president and how that has changed and stepped up in the last few months.

[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, we 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 [of prioritizing for deportation] people [it labelled as] a threat to the national security of this country. There was a kind of policy in place that [if] 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 … 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 office of immigrants that have committed crimes….

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 … [in addition to] all the Black [and Indigenous] 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.

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 your group is doing and the demands you are making around the Welcoming City ordinance?

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 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 … 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 One 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….

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.

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 … 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. On April 4 we had an event that we organized on the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King. It [was] 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 our own communities….

We already had an event that was more than a hundred people from about 30 organizations. It was great to learn from each other’s struggles to understand better what is happening in our communities…. 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.

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

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.

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

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.

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