Group ditches government hearing to block traffic

It was billed as the community’s best chance to vent about a controversial federal program targeting illegal immigrants.

About 200 protesters instead decided they had had enough of talking — and marched out of a downtown task-force hearing Wednesday evening on the Secure Communities program, before blocking an intersection and the Kennedy Expy off-ramp at West Washington Street.

Ten people were arrested, police said, including one young male protester who ran down the off-ramp and starting waving off approaching traffic.

Chanting “Terminate the program! No more lies,” the protesters hoisted signs that read: “Police should protect and serve, not deport and terrify,” and “The Secure Communities Act is domestic terrorism.”

The hearing at the IBEW Hall, 600 W. Washington, was supposed to be an opportunity for the public to comment about the Secure Communities program, which automatically shares arrestees’ fingerprints and details with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Those opposed to the program — touted as a way to protect citizens from dangerous convicts who are illegal immigrants — say it also ensnares people who have committed minor offenses and is a waste of police resources.

An advisory task force has held meetings in Los Angeles and Dallas — and now Chicago — to gather input and make a recommendation to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security about the program. Just 26 of Illinois’ 102 counties participate in the program. But Homeland Security recently told Gov. Pat Quinn and the governors of two other states that they can no longer opt out.

About 500 people — twice the number at either of the two previous hearings — packed the IBEW Hall. Most said the program deprives immigrants of their most basic rights.

“It is outrageous to incarcerate our neighbors — to pull them out of churches,” said protester Jim Cusack, 75, speaking before the task force.

But about 20 minutes into the hearing, almost half of the protesters marched out, led by a group that calls itself “Immigrant Youth Justice League.”

The protesters marched to Washington and Des Plaines, where they linked hands and sat down. By about 7:30 p.m, most had dispersed.

Several protesters admitted being illegal immigrants.

“This is something we face every day — being in deportation hearings. So putting ourselves in front of a street isn’t that far off from the fear the government makes us feel every day,” said protester Tania Unzueta, 27, who came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 10.

from the Trib

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