By :Aamer Madhani
CHICAGO — U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez and several immigrant advocates were briefly placed in restraints by federal officers after they staged a sit-in at the regional office of the Immigration Customs and Enforcement agency on Monday to protest the Trump administration’s increased targeting of undocumented immigrants for deportation.
Gutierrez, D-Ill., and activists began their sit-in at the Chicago office after a contentious meeting with ICE officials. The lawmaker said that he stood ready to be arrested when he started the protest late Monday morning, but ended the sit-in more than four hours later without incident.
Federal Protective Service officers gave the congressman and seven immigration advocates taking part-in the sit-in three warnings to leave the facility or face arrest, according to Gail Montenegro, an ICE spokeswoman. At one point, Gutierrez posted on social media that he was even placed in handcuffs but agents changed their mind and allowed the sit-in to continue.
Montenegro said federal agents removed the flex cuffs within approximately two minutes, after ICE officials relayed to the FPS officers that they no longer wanted the congressman and others removed from the building.
“They threatened us with arrest. We said ‘We’re ready to go to jail,'” Gutierrez told reporters after ending the protest. “We stood up to the bullies here…Unfortunately, tonight and tomorrow they will continue to prey on very vulnerable, defenseless people in their homes in the darkness of the night.”
The congressman said he decided to start the sit-in after he felt he received unsatisfactory or incomplete answers from ICE officials about whether they would carry out enforcement raids in churches and other sensitive locations.
Gutierrez also said he did not receive clear answers on whether the agency would target young undocumented immigrants living in the US under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy started under the Obama administration. The agency said in a statement that the sit-in began after the “Congressman sought actions and assurances that ICE officials couldn’t provide.”
Last week, ICE wrote on its Twitter that “DACA is not a protected legal status, but active DACA recipients are typically a lower level of enforcement priority.” The program provided hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants—commonly referred to as DREAMers— brought to the U.S. as children certain protections and a pathway to becoming U.S. citizens. ICE’s messages on social media have left many immigration advocates concerned that DREAMers could also be targeted.
The protest comes after the Department of Homeland Security issued a sweeping set of orders last month to increase immigration enforcement, placing the vast majority of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants at risk of deportation.
The new policy calls for immigration enforcement — including Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and ICE — to identify, capture and quickly deport every undocumented immigrant they encounter.
The Trump administration’s guidance also calls for undocumented immigrants caught entering the country to be placed in detention until their cases are resolved and increases the ability of local police to help in immigration enforcement.The new guidance make undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of a crime the highest priority for enforcement operations. They also make clear that ICE agents should also arrest and initiate deportation proceedings against any other undocumented immigrant they encounter.
Gutierrez said he also questioned ICE officials about the scheduled deportations of several immigrants living in the Chicago area.
One, Miguel Perez, is a Mexican-born legal permanent resident and Army veteran and is facing deportation after a felony drug conviction. Perez served two tours in Afghanistan.
Last month, Gutierrez and several other members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus were barred by staffers from House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office from attending a meeting in Washington with acting ICE director Thomas Homan.
Several Democratic lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., were invited to the meeting and attended.