Just blocks away from where many Loyola students live, work and study, unaccompanied immigrant children are hidden behind the walls of two immigration shelters in Rogers Park.
Many children in these shelters have either illegally crossed United States borders alone or with their parents. This year, more than 2,500 children were separated from their parents and detained in shelters around the country by the government, according to an article by ProPublica Illinois.
Eleven of these shelters, which house thousands of immigrants each year, are in Illinois, according to ProPublica.
In previous years, the shelters have held children who have crossed the border by themselves. More recently, the shelters were holding children who had been separated from their parents.
The two Rogers Park shelters are The International Youth Center, which can house 15 children, and the International Children’s Center, which is equipped for 70 children.
The shelter in Beverly, also called the International Children’s Center, has a capacity for 40 children. Englewood’s shelter, Casa Heartland at Princeton, can hold 19 children, and Bronzeville’s shelter, a converted nursing home, up to 250, ProPublica reported.
Most of the Chicago shelters are operated by Heartland Human Care Services, a division of the non-profit anti-poverty organization, Chicago-based Heartland Alliance.
Heartland didn’t return multiple requests for comment from The Phoenix.
This spring, President Donald Trump’s administration enforced a “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, focusing on prosecuting illegal immigrants, resulting in parents being taken into custody and familial separations. Children have been placed in shelters, foster homes or with other sponsors.
In the Illinois shelters, 100 children were detained as a result of Trump’s policy. As of July 27, 17 children remain in shelters under Heartland’s supervision, ProPublica reported.
Pictures and videos of crying children in enclosures caused world-wide uproar, leading to Trump’s reversal of the policy June 20.
In June, Loyola President Jo Ann Rooney released a statement condemning the separation of families at the border. Approximately 140 students at Loyola are undocumented and are attending college under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which Loyola and other universities have supported in the past.
Despite a preliminary injunction from Judge Dana Sabraw ordering children under the age of five to be reunited with their families by July 10 and older children by July 26, 565 children remain separated as of August 16 due to issues with reunification. These can include parents with unknown locations, parents who have been contacted but are outside of the country, parents who have expressed a desire against reunification or other red flags when performing background checks on the parents. The number of children reunited with their parents, taken into a sponsor’s custody or who turned 18 and were released was 2,089, according to the Washington Post.
According to ProPublica, the recent focus has been on shelters in coastal metropolitan areas and states along the southern border, but the existence of shelters in states further north has been widely unknown to the public.
Unaware these facilities existed in their wards, Chicago aldermen passed an ordinance July 25 requiring Heartland Alliance to disclose the locations and other information about the shelters to city officials, according to ProPublica.
Joe Moore, alderman of the 49th Ward which includes Rogers Park, didn’t return multiple requests for comment from The Phoenix.
The shelters are kept secret to protect the identities of children that could be vulnerable to gangs, smugglers or traffickers, ProPublica reported.
Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz, a professor in Loyola’s anthropology department, said these shelters are also meant to be kept a secret from the general public.
“That is not an accident that you don’t know [they exist]. That is part of what the administration does when they house people,” Gomberg-Muñoz said. “I think it’s part of what allows the U.S. Immigration System to function in the way that it does. If people knew what was going on, then they wouldn’t allow it to persist.”
Outside of Chicago, there are six facilities across Des Plaines and Bartlett. Heartland operates four of these shelters, which can altogether house up to 116 children.
Heartland Alliance has been positively regarded in the past for homelessness prevention and providing health programs and support for other social issues.
However, according to Gomberg-Muñoz, Heartland profits off housing children in these shelters, which has left them in a problematic situation.
“Their position is, ‘well, better us than some other God-forsaken agency that is going to be in the business of detaining children’ but at the end of the day, that is what [Heartland is] doing, they’re making money detaining children, and that’s a big problem for them,” Gomberg-Muñoz said.
Heartland has received the fourth-highest amount of federal dollars for housing children since 2015 — more than any other organization outside Texas, ProPublica reported.
Heartland has also been the subject of several abuse allegations, ProPublica reported. Children have been reported engaging in sexual activity and running away, according to ProPublica.
While protesters criticize Trump for implementing the practice, Trump argued the policy of prosecuting individuals attempting to enter the United States illegally is not new policy. However, Gomberg-Muñoz said enforcements surrounding immigration have become harsher over time.
“Over the course of the latter decades of the 20th century, you have the passage of a series of punitive policies,” Gomberg-Muñoz said. “It’s not really until after 9/11 that we start to have this massive exploding profit making system of housing migrants in detention centers.”
Gomberg-Muñoz said these policies have gotten progressively worse under the Obama and Trump administrations.
The Obama administration deported a record two million immigrants during his eight years as president.
She said more work can be done to combat the large-scale problem of immigration in the United States.
“We need a lot of ground work to get the kind of candidates that would fundamentally rethink the U.S. Immigration System,” Gomberg-Muñoz said. “I think we need an immigration system and a foreign policy approach in general that privileges the dignity of human beings, and that doesn’t assume the validity of categories like legal statuses or national origins, ways to decide who should have rights.”