About 50 demonstrators of all ages assembled outside of Heartland Alliance’s annual fundraiser gala at the Swissotel Hotel near Loyola’s Water Tower Campus on Oct. 11 to protest Chicago-area detention centers holding migrant children operated by part of the organization. Two of the nine facilities are in Rogers Park, near Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus.
More than 2,500 children were separated from their parents after crossing the border illegally and detained in shelters throughout the country by the federal government this year, according to an article by ProPublica Illinois.
These separations are due to the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance policy” on immigration, which mandates prosecution of anyone who crosses the border illegally, according to The New York Times. Families are separated in the process so that the adults can be prosecuted, according to The New York Times.
The Facebook page for the protest invited people to “ruin [Heartland’s] dinner,” alleging the organization’s exploitation of poor communities of color and operation of detention centers for migrant children.
Heartland Alliance is an anti-poverty organization that aims to advance human rights and respond to the needs of poor communities, according to its website. Heartland has been positively regarded for helping with homelessness and other issues, The Phoenix reported.
Heartland Human Care Services – the branch of Heartland Alliance that runs the detention centers – has also faced abuse accusations within the detention centers, Propublica reported.
The protest was supported by multiple organizations, including Little Village Solidarity Network/Red de Solidaridad de La Villita and Chicago General Defense Committee.
Protesters held signs and made drumming noises using buckets and sticks in an attempt to disrupt the donors walking into the fundraiser.
Each time someone walked into the building, the protesters grew louder and yelled, “shame.” Some protestors told people walking into the building to tell Heartland Alliance to “let those kids go,” in reference to migrant children being housed in shelters.
Demonstrators chanted, “Heartland’s gonna lose today,” and referred to Heartland as “baby jailers.”
Protestors argued with police officers a few times, but no arrests were made. Each time an argument broke out, the other protesters grew louder and chanted “the criminals are inside.”
Joseph Dutra, the media contact at Heartland Alliance, said the organization opposes the detention of children and families, but that closing the shelters would harm immigrants.
“Some believe we should not provide shelter for unaccompanied minors who have entered this country alone, and that we should shut down our shelters altogether,” Dutra said. “We believe that turning our backs on children who arrive at our borders alone, afraid, and in search of safety and a better life in the U.S. would serve only to further undermine the immigration system in this country for the very people we were founded to serve.”
Dutra said Heartland Alliance supports immigration and opposes any actions that harm immigrants.
“We know that immigrants and refugees make our city and country stronger economically, safer, and more robust socially and culturally,” Dutra said. “Heartland Alliance strongly opposes any actions that harm individuals seeking safety in the U.S. and that erode long-standing protections for immigrants and asylum seekers.”
Noah Jones, 26, said he came to the protest because he was surprised to learn that there were detention centers in Illinois.
“I wasn’t aware that there were all these detention centers under our very nose,” Jones said. “Chicago is supposed to be a sanctuary city, but that doesn’t stop the city from supporting organizations like Heartland Alliance. I find that hypocrisy infuriating.”
Jones said Heartland Alliance’s role in family separation upsets him because it investigates families through the children in its centers.
“The government’s line is that these nonprofit organizations are protecting these children but they’re not,” Jones said. “They’re using it as an excuse to investigate people of color and deport them. They’re using this guise to really exploit them.”
Eli Mosby, who said he lives on the South Side, said it’s important for people to protest unjust situations because the country belongs to the people who live in it.
“This is not a country built on hate and fascism,” Mosby said. “It’s time for us to take a stand. It’s time for us to change things because this is our country.”