WEST LAWN — Felony charges have been dropped against a Venezuelan asylum seeker who was arrested after migrants protested because they were unable to access a police station’s public bathroom.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office dropped the charges against the 21-year-old woman in court Friday. Block Club is not naming the woman because she has a pending asylum case.
Appearing before Judge Lindsay Huge, prosecutors didn’t say why they were no longer pursuing the three felony charges of resisting or obstructing officer. A spokesperson for the office said prosecutors determined they “could not meet our burden of proof to move forward with the prosecution of this case,” and asked the court to dismiss.
The woman, dressed in a black hoodie and torn jeans, appeared in Cook County Circuit Court, 727 E. 111th St., Friday with a translator. After the hearing, she said she felt good and thanked God the ordeal was over. She’s been placed in a shelter for asylum seekers since her arrest.
The woman had participated in a Saturday demonstration outside the Chicago Lawn (8th) District police station, 3420 W. 63rd St., after she and other migrants living in the station briefly blocked traffic to protest a lack of access to bathrooms.
The bathrooms inside the station, which reportedly had plumbing issues, had been closed for days, and the roughly 70 asylum seekers staying there were forced to share a single portable toilet that was serviced only once a day.
Officers arrested the woman after the protest. Police said officers were injured during the arrest. She was released from Cook County Jail on Sunday.
On Wednesday, community organizers from three activist groups and volunteers with mutual-aid groups providing support to asylum seekers attended the local police district council meeting in West Lawn, where several of them called for the charges to be dropped.
The woman arrived in Chicago after a perilous two-month trek from Venezuela to seek medical treatment for her 3-year-old son, who has a cleft palate, leaving another small child in Venezuela with her mother, according to a source who knows the woman.
Jamie Groth Searle, founder of the Southwest Collective, was among those who called for the charges against the woman to be dropped. She said Friday she was very glad the woman was no longer being prosecuted, but there’s still more work to be done.
“Something we can do immediately is have an operating process in place across all the police stations” dictating how officers should interact with migrants, Searle said. She added that a Welcoming City Bill of Rights for asylum seekers and deescalation training for police could also help.
The case highlights the challenges of using police stations as temporary shelters. Mayor Brandon Johnson announced a plan last week that would move nearly 2,000 migrants out of police stations and into huge, “winterized” tents.
Asked about standardizing procedures across police districts Wednesday, Johnson said his plan to house asylum seekers in giant, heated tents addresses that.
“We’re going to continue to work with all of our partners to ensure a baseline of support and standardization,” Johnson said.
Listen to the Block Club Chicago podcast: