In May 2018, Miguel Cortes Torres was walking in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood when a couple of officers stopped him and asked for identification.
The officers didn’t say why they stopped him, Cortes Torres said, but he handed them a Mexican consular ID.
The construction worker said he didn’t have a criminal record or any federal warrants and yet he was immediately handcuffed.
It wasn’t until Cortes Torres was in the car, he said, that the officers told him they were federal immigration agents. The father of two was one of dozens of undocumented immigrants arrested in Chicago during a weeklong immigration enforcement operation and taken to an immigration detention center in Kankakee. His statements and the details of his arrest are included in a lawsuit filed by the National Immigrant Justice Center challenging the tactics employed during that enforcement operation.
In 2018, between May 18 and May 24, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested more than 150 people within the Chicago enforcement region. About 70% of the arrests were considered “collateral” arrests, which means the subjects were not targeted for immigration enforcement, according to the lawsuit. Typically, during raids and other enforcement operations, federal agents target specific undocumented immigrants — because they have active deportation orders or because they have committed a crime — and obtain an administrative immigration warrant for their arrest.
The lawsuit highlights multiple instances in which ICE allegedly targeted mostly Latino neighborhoods and construction sites in Chicago and nearby suburbs, making arrests of individuals for whom the agency did not have administrative warrants nor any reasonable suspicions to stop and detain them. The lawsuit challenges this type of enforcement, calling it “racial profiling.”
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has argued that the case should be dismissed ever since it was filed in 2018. However, earlier this month, a judge allowed the lawsuit to continue moving through the system.
Since President Donald Trump took office, the administration has implemented numerous immigration policy changes. But, as a sanctuary city and state, both Chicago and Illinois have resisted cooperating with many of the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement tactics.
The Trump administration has “aggressively targeted sanctuary [cities and states] in order to either prevent new ones from arising but to hopefully force [them] into being co-opted into doing civil immigration enforcement,” said Mark Fleming, director of litigation for the National Immigrant Justice Center. “Another piece of that strategy was also to do saturation enforcement operations in various sanctuary [cities and states].”
ICE Acting Director Matthew T. Albenc told the newspaper that these types of enforcement efforts come as a response to policies adopted by sanctuary cities.
The increased immigration enforcement described in the article is similar to the raids described in the lawsuit.
Immigrant rights groups in Chicago have been hosting dozens of “know your rights” workshops since Trump took office. These workshops focus on avoiding immigration agents who visit immigrants’ homes.
But the types of raids described in the lawsuit present a new challenge: Enforcement is not limited to people’s homes.
“We’re going to be doing more Migra watch training,” said Rey Wences, an organizer with Organized Communities Against Deportation. “We’re training people what to do if they see ICE activity.”
Wences said they want to be really careful with this kind of training because immigration officials are becoming more aggressive. Wences cited a case in New York City in which a man was shot in the face by an ICE agent.
“I’m really worried about the use of force,” Wences said. “[ICE agents] are showing us more force. … This is helping to expand the militarization of ICE.”
Mony Ruiz-Velasco, executive director of PASO West Suburban Action Project, said immigration enforcement under this administration has used different tactics. She said it is important for immigrants to be prepared. She said her group will be doing more “know your rights” workshops focusing on different enforcement scenarios.
“We’ve been preparing for all of this,” she said. “This announcement is an escalation in violence. It’s not just an escalation in enforcement. It’s really using more violent measures.”
Activists are warning immigrants that the Trump administration is deploying tactics that might racially profile people of color who may be seen as immigrants. They point to the biggest mass deportation operation in the nation’s history called, “Operation Wetback.” It’s unclear exactly how many people were caught up in the operation, which was conducted in the 1950s and named after a racist description of Mexican immigrants. As many as 1.3 million Mexican immigrants were deported, according to some estimates. The operation utilized military-style tactics to remove Mexican immigrants and even some American citizens of Mexican descent.
During Operation Wetback, Chicago was a focal point, the Chicago Tribune reported. By 1954, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service was flying three planes full of Mexican immigrants out of Midway Airport each week in its efforts to remove them from the country.
María Ines Zamudio is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @mizamudio.