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Case Plods Along for Man Who Sued ICE, County for Civil Rights Violations

The waiting game continues for Wilmer Catalan-Ramirez, his wife and children. Here’s our dispatch from a recent court date.

Celene Adame, wife of Catalan-Ramirez, spoke with reporters and supporters at Dirksen federal court building last week. (Photo: Geoff Hing)

Navigating the legal system involves a lot of waiting. In the lobby of the Dirksen federal courthouse in Chicago, Wilmer Catalan-Ramirez’s children tried their best to pass the time before their father’s court date on Tuesday. The youngest played on a handrail and ran toward the courthouse’s revolving door before being called back by adults and eventually sitting to play with a fidget spinner. The oldest sat silently, staring at a phone. The middle child buried her head against her mother, who was discussing the upcoming hearing with supporters.

Their father’s case alleges that Immigration Customs and Enforcement officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights and used excessive force when arresting him. It also claims that Catalan-Ramirez was mistreated by corrections officers and provided with inadequate medical care at McHenry County Adult Correctional Facility after his arrest. Since he was detained in late March, it’s the second time his children have been to court.

The children understand what’s going on with their father’s case, but not in great detail, Celene Adame, the children’s mother and Catalan-Ramirez’s wife, said. Faced with an incarcerated partner, “I really have no choice but to keep on going,” Adame said, “My family needs him, my kids need him.”

Before the hearing started, Adame found out that Catalan-Ramirez would not be able to attend his court date; she had hoped the kids could see their father as it’s difficult for the family to travel to McHenry County for visits. Instead, he would remain at the detention facility.

During the hearing Judge Joan Lefkow ruled that the six ICE agents listed as “John Doe” in the lawsuit will have their names revealed, as the 7th Circuit court rarely allows anonymous defendants, she said.

Lefkow also urged Catalan-Ramirez’s attorneys and Jana Brady, attorney for Correct Care Systems, to reach a settlement over claims involving Catalan-Ramirez’s medical care at the county facility, which Correct Care provides. Catalan-Ramirez has ongoing medical needs as a result of a drive-by-shooting; he is partially paralyzed and requires pain medication, and sustained additional injuries during his arrest, according to his suit. Brady asked the judge to sever the claims against Correct Care Systems into a separate case as her clients would not agree to the medical demands made by Catalan-Ramirez’s attorneys. “That ship has sailed,” Brady said, referring to the possibility of settling out of court.

There were six defense attorneys present in court, an indication of the complex relationship between local law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement. In addition to ICE and Correct Care Systems, the lawsuit also names defendants that are part of the Chicago Police Department and the McHenry County Sheriff’s Department.

The lawsuit alleges that Catalan-Ramirez was arrested without judicial warrant or suspicion of being involved in a crime, a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. His arrest was a result of being included in CPD’s gang database even though he has never been a member of a gang, the lawsuit alleges. While Chicago’s Welcoming City Ordinance generally restricts collaboration between CPD and ICE, gang affiliation is one of the exceptions that allows cooperation between the two. The suit also claims that Catalan-Ramirez suffered a shoulder injury and loss of eyesight during the arrest, which means he now needs help with tasks like eating and getting dressed.

Speaking to supporters after the hearing, Adame said Catalan-Ramirez was struggling with the length of the case and the uncertainty of the outcome. The next hearing in his case, which his lawyers expect to be a brief status hearing, is scheduled for September 6.

This summer, City Bureau reporters are investigating the agencies and policies that make up immigration enforcement in Chicago. If you have any experiences with immigration enforcement to share, please reach out here or at

How Do Illinois State Police Cooperate With Immigration Officials?

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

Why We Love 90 Days, 90 Voices

How a group of City Bureau alums turned a relationship built in our newsroom into an independent reporting series on immigration in America.

The founders of 90 Days, 90 Voices are, in various ways, born of the immigrant experience, living it today and raising the country’s next generation of children born to immigrant parents.

They have something else in common: they’re all former City Bureau reporters.

We couldn’t be more excited about the 90 Days, 90 voices project, in part, because we didn’t have a role in its emergence. Our program alums met during City Bureau’s Fall 2016 reporting cycle and went on to independently produce a project that embodies the journalistic values we share.

In 90 Days, 90 Voices, you’ll find amazing stories of immigrants and refugees building their lives in the U.S. in spite of a hostile White House. Stories like that of Tango dancer, log cabin builder and Syrian immigrant Jafra Saif; Malak Afaneh, who blends “American patriotism and [her] Muslim ideals” through her design of a Muslim Rosie the Riveter T-shirt; and Abdinasir Kahin, a Somali torture survivor who found a home in the U.S. with the help of Chicagoans who opened their hearts to him.

Beyond that, you’ll find the fruits of a connection made in City Bureau’s South Side newsroom, more than six months ago.

We think that the most exciting thing about collective journalism is that it creates strong relationships between reporters and the communities they cover. And, it creates connections between the journalists themselves. By giving our Reporting Fellows ownership of their own projects, and by encouraging entrepreneurship within the newsroom, something new can emerge—a more balanced and equitable collaboration between journalists, communities and the broader public. We believe in looking beyond the folks directly participating in our programs to create a network of engaged, responsive individuals who are able and willing to take on difficult questions within their own spheres of influence.

90 Days, 90 Voices tells the stories of those seeking a home in the United States during an age of unrest, and we’re proud to consider it part of the extended City Bureau family.

Join City Bureau and 90 Days, 90 Voices on April 27—the 90th day since President Donald Trump signed an executive order that barred citizens of seven countries from coming to the United States—for a workshop at our Public Newsroom. The 90-minute session will offer a look into 90 Days, 90 Voices reporters’ favorite stories, tips for covering immigration issues and celebrate the storytelling project’s work.

You’ll also have a chance to add your own voice to the project and meet some of the immigrants featured in 90 Days, 90 Voices media.

Here’s more from the 90 Days team:


Three months ago, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that barred citizens of seven countries from coming to the United States for 90 days and all refugee admissions for 120 days. Syrians, who make up 1 out of every 6 refugees in the world today, were indefinitely banned.

In response to the ban, three Chicago journalists (Sarah Conway, Alex Hernandez and Nissa Rhee) founded 90 Days, 90 Voices — a storytelling project about those seeking a home in the United States during an age of unrest. Working with a diverse group of reporters, illustrators, photographers, and videographers, they are giving readers a glimpse into the hardships endured by more than 65 million refugees worldwide who are searching for dignity in the largest displacement crisis since World War II.

Thursday, April 27 marks 90 days since the executive order was signed. Come join the founders of 90 Days, 90 Voices at this special Public Newsroom event to hear some of their favorite stories, learn tips for covering immigration issues, and celebrate the storytelling project’s work.

Those who come will have the opportunity to add their own voice to the project and to meet some of the immigrants we have featured.

Food and drinks will be provided. Please RSVP so we know how much to bring.