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Estephany Hernandez at Defund DHS rally

Estephany Hernandez, 15, a youth leader with the Southwest Suburban Immigrant project, speaks during a rally Tuesday morning in downtown Chicago where social justice activists called for the federal government to defund the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

María Inés Zamudio

Chicago Activists Call For Defunding The Department Of Homeland Security

A coalition of social justice organizations stood outside a federal building in downtown Chicago Tuesday demanding the federal government to defund the largest law enforcement agency in the country: the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Activists billed the demonstration as part of the broader call to defund police as a means to racial justice, a movement that has gained national prominence this summer amid protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police.

About a dozen leaders from Chicago-area organizations, including the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, took turns describing why DHS should be defunded.

“This is white supremacy in action. We are angry and we will fight back,” said Fasika Alem, programs director of the United African Organization.

On Tuesday, local activists were also critical of the operations and programs of DHS and the agencies under its umbrella, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

The activists said they want DHS to cancel the immigration enforcement citizens academy scheduled to start in September in Chicago. They want federal agents to stop arresting Black Lives Matter activists around the country, and they criticized delays in processing citizenship applications and delays of citizenship oath ceremonies, which prevent immigrants from formally becoming citizens and, thus, being eligible to vote.

“We demand that Congress clean up the mismanagement,” said Alem.

She said her organization has tried to naturalize hundreds of immigrants, and they have faced delays.

Immigration advocates said they are planning a “People’s Academy” on the same day the ICE citizens academy is set to start. No further details were provided at Tuesday’s press conference.

Activists said they also are fighting to protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked President Donald Trump’s attempt to end the Obama-era program, which provides temporary protection for young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. In July, a federal judge in Maryland ordered the Trump administration to start accepting new DACA applications. But on July 28, DHS issued new guidelines for DACA recipients. The guidelines call for no new DACA applications and require current recipients to apply for renewals every year instead of every two years. Effectively, the new guidelines more than double the price for DACA renewals. DACA recipients had paid about $410 in fees every two years, and now they will pay $550 every year.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision allowing DACA to continue, Estephany Hernandez, 15, a youth leader with the Southwest Suburban Immigrant project in Bolingbrook, said she’s been gathering evidence to prove that she is eligible.

“It has not been easy,” Hernandez said adding that there are over 300 young immigrants, like her, who qualify for DACA. “However, the racist, xenophonic and white supremacist leaders at DHS and this administration continue to attack us.”

Hernandez said she’s ready to fight. And for her, it starts with this message for Congress:

“Remember me when the time comes to vote for more funding for DHS. Remember me when it’s time to vote for legislation that is not clear and that provides me with a pathway to citizenship but criminalizes others,” she said. “We don’t want crumbs anymore; we want citizenship for all.”

María Inés Zamudio is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @mizamudio.

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