Mayor Rahm Emanuel sought to reassure undocumented immigrants Monday that Chicago will remain a so-called “sanctuary city,” but his morning press conference took an unexpected turn when one of the speakers flipped the script.
Luis Gomez, a 21-year-old senior at the Illinois Institute of Technology, spoke at the press conference to confirm undocumented immigrants are experiencing high levels of stress since Donald Trump won the presidential election. Gomez, who came to the U.S. from Mexico at age 11, was expected to highlight the message that Chicago’s sanctuary city policy remains critical to his family.
But instead he stood in front of Emanuel and U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., and criticized them for their approach to immigration policy.
“We’re in this crisis because of people like Rep. Gutierrez and Mayor Emanuel, who’ve endorsed a candidate who has alienated the working class, my community, through your stale neo-liberal policies,” Gomez said.
Gomez accused the elected officials of dividing the immigrant community by promoting policies, such as Chicago’s sanctuary city policy and comprehensive immigration reform, that offer protections only to immigrants who do not have criminal records.
“If you and your party does not take bold leadership, you will inevitably fail to fight against Trump and his policies,” Gomez said. “Be the leaders you claim to be and protect us. Protect my community, protect me.”
Gutierrez and Emanuel each took the podium after Gomez, but neither addressed the student’s remarks.
Trump vowed on the campaign trail to deport all of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. The president-elect walked back those remarks on Sunday during an interview on CBS’s 60 Minutes, saying instead he would immediately deport 2 million to 3 million immigrants who he said had a criminal background.
During his tenure, President Barack Obama has deported more than 2.5 million people. Under his predecessor, President George W. Bush, more than 1.6 million were deported.
The Monday press conference at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago was organized by the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition. Emanuel and Gutierrez were joined by officials from the medical and immigrant advocacy fields who said many people have shared stories of distress and fear over possible deportations under a Trump administration.
“Since the elections, my phone has been off the hook and when it’s not ringing, I’m worried,” said Tanya Cabrera, chair of the Illinois Dream Fund, which awards scholarships to undocumented college students. “My students are terrified. Some of them haven’t showed up to school. Counselors and our allies are worried. Some can’t get up in the morning. They feel hopeless and scared, uncertain of the road ahead.”
Odette Yousef is WBEZ’s North Side reporter. You can follow her @oyousef.