At a recent Pilsen town hall, residents spoke with a state police officer about the agency’s policies.

“Know Your Rights” signs in Pilsen. (Photo: Geoff Hing)

Last Thursday, a coalition of neighborhood and immigrant rights groups hosted a town hall to discuss how Illinois State Police interact with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. Though a representative from ISP answered questions at the meeting, organizers — who said they are seeing heightened levels of fear and anxiety in their community due to the Trump administration’s focus on deporting undocumented immigrants — said they left without additional clarity on the issues that matter most.

According to the organizers, the meeting was spurred after two people connected to St. Pius V Parish, where the town hall was held, were taken into custody by ICE after separate driving incidents. In the Illinois-based incident, the driver, who is an undocumented immigrant, was allegedly rear-ended by another driver, who then called the police and state troopers arrived at the scene. He was later deported.

Rafaela Guillen, a member of the congregation, said she believes the state troopers informed ICE about the driver’s immigration status. At the meeting, organizers and audience members repeatedly asked Gutierrez if the state police would report undocumented immigrants to ICE.

Illinois State Police Major Luis Gutierrez said ISP policy prohibits officers from detaining someone based on suspicion of their immigration status. However, Gutierrez said the law requires the state police to contact ICE in certain situations, including when someone is being arrested for a felony charge or sex offense, is suspected of participating in human trafficking or is a “documented gang member.” The state police is also required to contact ICE if there is a National Crime Information Center hold placed on an individual, he said. (NCIC is a database that contains information on stolen property as well as individuals who are missing or have outstanding warrants, including administrative warrants for being “immigration violator[s].”)

“We have a responsibility to law enforcement agencies to cooperate with federal law enforcement authorities, just like we do with every other agency in the state and in the country,” Gutierrez said.

When pressed about the case highlighted at the meeting, Gutierrez said the man who was deported had an NCIC hold. When pressed further by the audience, Gutierrez said that Illinois State Police did not detain the man. “We didn’t hand him over to anyone. He went home,” Gutierrez said.

An ISP spokesperson said via email that officers contact ICE if a person has records in the NCIC immigration file from a prior deportation or an administrative immigration warrant. (Unlike warrants in criminal investigations, immigration warrants are not issued by a judge and do not have the same probable-cause standard. Administrative warrants authorize ICE agents to detain someone based on an immigration violation.)

The deported man’s story highlights to complicated collaboration between local and state law enforcement and federal immigration authorities, even in places labeled as “sanctuary” jurisdictions, such as Chicago. Attendees asked Gutierrez if the agency would limit its cooperation with ICE.

“It’s not as easy as yes or no,” Gutierrez responded.

Anna Gonzales, a Pilsen resident who attended the meeting, said she wasn’t satisfied with the Gutierrez’s answers. “I really feel like he didn’t answer the question exactly the way it was given to him,” Gonzales said. Rather than explain how someone went from a traffic crash to deportation, Gonzales said the state police just stated their official policy. “I think we can look that up on the internet,” Gonzales said.

In recent months, immigrant rights advocates have increasingly drawn attention to the ways law enforcement data collection and sharing can lead to the deportation of undocumented immigrants. In May, attorneys representing Wilmer Catalan-Ramirez filed a lawsuit against the City of Chicago, the Chicago Police Department and other government entities claiming that his inclusion in CPD’s gang database led to a raid by ICE agents. Attorneys representing Luis Vicente Pedrote-Salinas also filed a lawsuit over his inclusion in CPD’s gang database. The gang database is one of the “carve-outs,” or exceptions, that permit cooperation between the police department and federal immigration authorities, in Chicago’s Welcoming City Ordinance, that activists are pushing to close.

Rita Aguilar, vice president of the Pilsen Neighbors Community Council, one of the groups that organized the event, said immigration enforcement has contributed to a sense of fear in her neighborhood. Fewer people are showing up to “know your rights” trainings, some families have kept their children home from school and some are skipping health care appointments, she said. They worry that, “If I share my information, will I be at risk of deportation?” Aguilar said. At the meeting, coalition representatives tried to convey that undocumented residents were safe to participate in these kinds of daily activities.

Gonzales also feels a change in Pilsen as a result of the Trump administration’s focus on immigration enforcement. “The milieu in Pilsen has always been a place of happiness, a place of hope, a place of caring,” Gonzales said, “and I think some of that now is changed, because I think people are afraid to meet other people now.” However, she also sees these challenges in the context of the community’s strength.

“I think that meetings like this are giving people encouragement, and giving people hope back, and giving people the ability to have a voice still,” Gonzales said. “Pilsen has always had a voice and as long as I can remember in this neighborhood, we have fought for everything that we’ve gotten.”

This summer, City Bureau reporters are working to document the infrastructure of immigration enforcement in Chicago — in other words, the many ways that immigration officials can affect the lives of Chicago residents. If you have a story or tip to share, please reach out here or at info@citybureau.org.