How Transportation Advocates Can Be Allies During Immigration Crackdowns

26th Street in Chicago's Little Village. Image: Google Street View
26th Street in Chicago's Little Village. Image: Google Street View

To be true advocates for sustainable transportation and livable cities, we need to consider what makes streets safe for everyone, whether that means calling for more protected bike lanes, or making sure to consider different identities and their experiences on the street.

A few months ago, I wrote about how the many cases of missing Black and Brown girls and women on Chicago’s South and West sides represent a mobility justice issue. Considering how and why some people may not feel safe walking on the street also goes beyond physical infrastructure; it means thinking of the lived experiences and environments of people.

Lately I’ve been thinking about what it means to exist on the street as an immigrant living in this city and country. Can we truly have livable cities if immigrants don’t feel safe walking down the street? Block Club Chicago recently reported that sales have dropped on the 26th Street shopping district in Little Village, which is widely believed to be due to the threats of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement sweeps. The recent news that ICE raids were planned Chicago as part of a nationwide attack on immigrant communities further amplified this feeling of fear.

As an example of how real the threat is, three children who are U.S. citizens who were traveling without their immigrant parents were held by border protection officers for 13 hours at O’Hare last week, which a local congresswoman called “kidnapping of children by our government.”

In this context, calling for safe streets mean being thinking of all the ways we can be allies to others whose safety is jeopardized, particularly in light of the fact that immigrants are more likely to ride transit that U.S.-born residents. A 2010 UCLA study also found that recent arrivals to our country are 41 percent more likely to commute to work by bike.

Here are some ways that sustainable transportation advocates can help out.

  1. Have your organization or company release a statement in support of immigrants. Safe streets means making sure everyone feels safe walking and existing on the road.
  2. Encourage transit agencies to release statements of support and reiterating that immigrants are safe on public transportation. CTA released a statement in 2017 debunking rumors about immigration ID checks on the CTA. Public communication goes a long way to reaffirming people can feel safe riding transit.
  3. Organize bike and pedestrian brigades to help educate immigrants about their rights in the event of a raid, or to simply serve as eyes on the street. Dozens of volunteers on bikes and on foot patrolled Albany Park this weekend doing just this.
  4. Inform immigrants of their rights near CTA train and bus stops, much like recent canvassing by Alderwoman Rossana Rodriguez and Alderman Carlos Rosa outside the Kimball Brown Line station.
  5. Safety on transit is always a contentious issue, and during the recent mayoral election, some candidates called for an increased police presence on the CTA. While Mayor Lori Lightfoot has verbally stated that the Chicago Police Department will not work with ICE to detain immigrants (although she hasn’t issued an executive order), it’s important to always consider the potential risk that law enforcement can pose to immigrant communities. For example, in 2017 in the Twin Cities, during a fare check a Metro Transit officer asked a light-rail passenger whether he was in the country illegally. The rider was then tased and arrested on suspicion of fare evasion. ICE then took him into custody. Metro Transit has since updated their policies, which now state that transit police will not inquire about immigration status in most cases (unless human trafficking or another major felony is involved).
  6. Some ACLU chapters have written “know your rights” information for immigrants riding public transportation. We should consider what other written and visual materials can be useful for transit users, and other ways we can leverage resources to raise awareness.
  7. Have conversations about how immigration and the immigrant identity ties into safe streets and transportation. We need more people discussing this intersection and bringing up ideas that may have been overlooked.

Immigrants are a crucial segment of our society that is currently under attack, so as sustainable transportation advocates we need to deepen our understanding of the issues that impact the way they experience transportation. Otherwise, we aren’t truly advocating for safe streets for all.

  • Kelly Pierce

    Lynda Lopez wrongfully maligns the work of Customs and
    Border Protection in the incident identified. Everything the agency did in the
    incident was in the best interest of the children as it followed the laws
    passed by Congress. The children were accompanied by an adult on an invalid
    visa. As the visa was invalid, CBP sent the adult back to Mexico on a flight in
    accordance with federal law. The children were then abandoned. CBP then
    contacted the children’s parents to take custody of them. The mother is an
    illegal alien and her presence at a CBP facility would likely trigger her
    arrest and initiation of deportation proceedings, in accordance with federal
    law. The mother attempted to name surrogates to take custody of the children,
    but no court had recognized their parentage authority and documents the mother
    presented could not be independently verified. Rather than transfer the
    children to the custody of the Illinois Department of Children and Family
    Services who could determine the fitness of the parent and the best legal arrangement
    for the children, CBP agreed to the transfer with the mother without her arrest
    for immigration violations. Releasing the children to someone other than the
    parent or legal guardian could place the children in the position of being
    abused or exploited. Holding the children for their parents was in the children’s
    best interest to prevent crime victimization and child exploitation.

  • hopeyglass

    thank you for writing this, Lynda, and props to SBC for publishing it. that last line.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    More info on the case, as reported by the bleeding-heart liberal Chicago Tribune:

    “[The mother of the three girls] said she sent her son and daughter-in-law, a U.S. citizen, to pick up the girls, but they were turned away…

    Mony Ruiz-Velasco, of PASO West Suburban Action Project, said it shouldn’t have taken this level of intervention for the children to be released. Ruiz-Velasco had gotten a notarized letter signed by the mother allowing the immigration advocate to take the girls home, but officials still did not release the children.”

    At any rate, the way this incident played out is certainly a sign of the times.

  • david

    While I am not a Trump fan, illegal immigrants should be deported. At the very least, they take jobs from citizens.

  • Commodore Bici

    No they don’t. Go away.

  • defuncted up

    False narrative brought on by racism and xenophobia. It isn’t the immigrants you should be worried about. Try the 1%, political elite, and people born from wealth where that wealth was stolen generations ago.

  • defuncted up

    SO they detained her children and held them captive like the cowards they are as ransom for their mother’s deportation? You seriously don’t see anything wrong or immoral about that? And before you say “iTs tHeRe jOb”, it was also plenty of other people’s jobs to round up slaves back when that was legal but that didn’t make it right.

  • Alex

    What immigration crackdown? Didn’t the NYT just report that a grand total of 35 people were deported in ICE raids nationwide?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Right, the widespread deportations haven’t materialized yet, but the threat of them is already impacting people’s lives, as shown by the drop in sales on 26th Street and other collateral issues.


Coming Next Week: Streetsblog Chicago

After setting up transportation news sites covering New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and national policy, next Tuesday Streetsblog will be expanding for the first time in four years with the launch of Streetsblog Chicago. The reporters producing Streetsblog Chicago are John Greenfield and Steven Vance, who have built an impressive audience for local transportation […]

Are Sidewalks Really Necessary?

A lot of big, surprising revelations are happening in the livable streets movement around the country today. Here’s a sample of what Streetsblog Network members are reporting. Miami Adopts Vision Zero Policy: Street safety advocates are elated after Miami officials suddenly announced the city would adopt a Vision Zero policy aimed a reducing the number […]