CHICAGO — Francisca Lino, an undocumented mother of four US-born children, waited outside the Chicago federal building Monday in freezing temperatures, hoping for a miracle. She was told last week that she would be deported, even though she’s been checking in with immigration officials regularly for 12 years.
Lino was not the only one hoping for a miracle outside the federal building. Next to her were Elvira Arellano and Esperanza Perez.
Arellano became the face of the immigration debate back in 2006, when she took refuge inside a church, making national headlines. She says she has to check in with ICE Wednesday.
Esperanza Perez was there representing her son, Miguel Perez Jr. He’s a US Army veteran, with a green card, who served two tours in Afghanistan. Esperanza says her son returned stateside with PTSD and his life went into a downward spiral. He was charged with a drug crime, served seven years in prison and was then detained by ICE.
Inside, Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, D-Illinois, was meeting with ICE officials, asking for a reprieve on behalf of Lino, Arellano and Perez.
“I’m hoping for good news,” Perez said. “Good news would be that my son is back home, with his case closed and with his naturalization application on file. He has the right to citizenship. He’s been here since he was eight years old. He went to war. He was in Afghanistan for two tours.”
Lino said she was nervous simply standing outside the doors of the federal building. She was detained for 28 days 12 years ago, after ICE found out she used a fake visa to try to get into the United States in 1999. After that, she has been required to check in with an immigration officer about twice a year.
During last week’s regular check-in, Lino was first told she could stay for another year. But shortly afterward, her joy turned to heartbreak. ICE agents told her she was getting deported. She was told to return to the federal building in July, bags packed and passport in hand.
Her 16-year-old daughter had a panic attack when she learned the news, Lino said.
A sit-in at ICE
Gutierrez demanded Monday that ICE reverse Lino’s deportation order. “The only thing that has changed is that we have a new president of the United States. And we want to ask them why are they targeting the mom of American citizens, the wife of an American citizen,” Gutierrez said before the meeting, part of which he live-streamed on his Facebook page.
As the meeting progressed, it became clear they weren’t getting anywhere, Gutierrez said. “Their response was, we can’t give you an answer today, and if you don’t leave you will be arrested,” he said.
At that point, the congressman, Lino’s pastor and several others staged an impromptu sit-in inside.
“We think it’s time that America wake up to this deplorable, inhumane situation in which immigrant communities across this nation live under,” Gutierrez told CNN via Facetime during the sit-in. “Some people are saying it’s time for a clear resistance to those deportations.”
Hours in, the congressman was given three warnings to leave the premises by Federal Protective Service police, a federal police force that protects federal facilities, according to Gutierrez’s spokesman Doug Rivlin.
Gutierrez and his delegation continued to sit in. FPS officers eventually restrained the group. “When the group refused to leave, they were briefly placed in flexible plastic restraints before ICE officials relayed that they no longer wanted the individuals removed from the building,” said Department of Homeland Security spokesman Dave Lapan. “The congressman and other individuals were placed in the restraints for approximately two minutes before the flex cuffs were removed by FPS.”
Though the congressman said on social media that he was arrested, DHS said that no members of the group were cited by police for the sit-in.
After six and a half hours inside the ICE federal building in Chicago, the group emerged through the revolving glass doors.
Tears rolled down Lino’s face as she waited anxiously to hear if Gutierrez had good news about her case. She, Arellano and Perez listened in dismay as the congressman told them they would not be able to get an answer today.
“I feel very sad because I might have to leave,” said Lino.
“But I’ll leave with my children,” she said. “I’m not going to leave them behind.”