More than a year after Rogers Park residents discovered the neighborhood contains multiple immigration shelters that house children, a recent protest sparked a response from the organization in charge of the shelters.
ProPublica Illinois — an independent, non-profit, investigative journalism organization — first reported about the shelters in July 2018. It showed Rogers Park has two immigration shelters — The International Youth Center and the International Children’s Center — which are under the control of Heartland Human Care Service, a branch of the anti-poverty organization Heartland Alliance. The children housed in the shelters were either alone or with their parents when they illegally crossed the United States border, according to the report.
In the past, Heartland Alliance immigration shelters have faced abuse allegations, according to the report. At one of the centers in Rogers Park, a document from the Department of Children and Family Services alleged “improper and inadequate supervision” and fire code violations, the report said.
In July 2018, Heartland Alliance released a statement saying no evidence was found to support claims of abuse during Heartland’s internal investigation and emphasized its mission to protect vulnerable children and their families.
Despite Heartland Alliance’s response in 2018, protests have continued to take place since, including Oct. 11 of last year, when demonstrators gathered outside of Heartland Alliance’s annual fundraiser gala to “ruin” the event, The Phoenix reported. The group of about 50 protesters chanted, “the real criminals are inside,” and called for Heartland Alliance to “let those kids go.”
Most recently, demonstrators gathered Oct. 12, steps away from Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus, to protest these shelters again.
The march was organized by the Rogers Park and Little Village solidarity networks, according to the flyer released by organizers. The flyer said the purpose of the march was to call for the closure of the shelters.
Demonstrators holding signs and drumming with buckets chanted, “No borders. No jail. Not Rogers Park, not anywhere.”
Heartland Alliance’s attempts to communicate with the Rogers Park and Little Village solidarity networks haven’t been reciprocated, said Joseph Dutra, a spokesperson for Heartland Alliance. Dutra said the protestors are “completely misinformed,” and said without the shelter Heartland Alliance provides, the children could be placed in even worse settings.
“We provide immediate safety and stability to all children who come into our shelters within a nurturing, trauma-informed environment,” Dutra said. “We are not a jail or detention center, and it is damaging, dangerous and irresponsible to make those claims.”
The flyer for the protest called the shelters “concentration camps” and “genocidal system[s],” comparing them to American Indian boarding schools which broke apart families and forced assimilation.
During the protest Oct. 12, two people — a 32-year-old man and a 37-year-old man — were arrested for reckless conduct, obstruction of traffic as non-motorists and resisting, Chicago Police Department News Affairs Officer Anthony Spicuzza said.