By Patricia Rezaei and Annabel Garcia
More than 500 people attended an event on incarceration and immigration detention called “Forced Out” that was held Thursday at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).
The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), UIC and other groups organized this community forum to raise awareness about harsh immigration laws impacting Latinos and incarceration policy impacting African-Americans and other ethnic groups.
More than 400,000 undocumented immigrants are currently being held in immigration detention centers. More than 2.5 million men, women and children are locked up in jails, prisons and juvenile detention centers, organizers said.
Rafi Peterson, 55, a community organizer and co-chairman for the Forced Out event said communities need to come together to change the high rates of detention and incarceration.
“This is not a problem that we are trying to solve over night. I want everyone here to commit to joining this movement. This is a marathon, not a sprint,” Peterson said.
People who have been detained and incarcerated shared their stories at the event.
Jose Guadalupe Herrera Soto told his story of being sent to jail for an aggravated felony after driving without a license. Soto spent three months in Cook County jail after he refused a deal to plead guilty for six months of jail.
“Migration is what humans do. There should be no restrictions on this period,” Soto said. “I refuse to be a commodity. I am human; I am a person of color, a father, a student, a son, an immigrant. I resist. I challenge and fight back through my organizing. I have been labeled a criminal, therefore I stand up and join this struggle.”
Beth Richie, 55, a professor of criminology and the director of the Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy, thanked and acknowledged all the volunteers that helped put the event together. She urged others to join in this movement to halt the detention and incarceration of people of color.
“We see this as time to make a different kind of move. A political move, a cultural move, a spiritual move, an intellectual move to do our work different,” said Richie. “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”
A follow up event will be held at St. Agatha Catholic Church, 3151 W. Douglass Boulevard, on Saturday, April 28th at 3 p.m.