DOWNTOWN — A group of activists calling for the release of detained immigrant children in Chicago took their fight to LaSalle Street Monday.
The group of about 20 activists, which included members of Chicago’s Democratic Socialists of America chapter, handed out flyers and held up posters urging people passing by to learn more about the five Chicago shelters operated by Heartland Human Care Services — two in Rogers Park, one in Beverly, one in Bronzeville and one in Englewood — that have hundreds of immigrant children in their care.
The protest in front of 208 S. LaSalle St., the location of the Heartland Alliance office, was part of a week of actions planned to protest the detention of immigrant children, according to the group.
Heartland Human Care Services is an affiliate of Heartland Alliance. Heartland began providing shelter for unaccompanied minors coming to the United States without their parents in 1995, according to ProPublica Illinois.
Activists Monday called the shelters “detention centers,” but Heartland Alliance officials said in a statement the organization opposes child detention centers and instead works to provide shelter to unaccompanied minors “seeking safety and refuge” in the United States.
“These children arrive at our borders alone, scared, and often traumatized from their journey fleeing a dangerous situation, and we provide a compassionate, peaceful and healing environment until these children can be united with family or a sponsor here,” the statement read.
“Unaccompanied minors who cross the border into the United States seeking safety are vulnerable to trafficking and other abuses, and our mission is to protect them and connect them as quickly as possible to a safe environment,” the statement continued. “Calling for the elimination of protections and services harkens back to an unfortunate time when children were held in detention facilities that were managed through a criminal justice approach. We vehemently oppose child detention centers and the criminalization of children and families as a result of government immigration policies.”
As part of the demonstration, Dan Ackerman and Sarah Gourevitch, co-coordinators for the Free Heartland Kids campaign by the Immigration Rights Committee of the Chicago chapter of DSA, attempted to deliver a 20-page letter of demands to David Sinski, executive director of Heartland Human Care Services. A glass door in front of Heartland’s reception area was locked, so they instead slid the letter through the door. While they were in the building, activists outside chanted: “free the kids.”
The activists outside of the Heartland office asked people to sign a petition demanding the release of detained immigrant children in Chicago.
Ackerman said campaign members met with executives at Heartland earlier in the year, and asked questions about the past, present and future of its detention operations. But they didn’t get as many answers as they had hoped for.
Alexander Lecocq, 24, spent part of his birthday protesting. He said he thought it can be easy to look at the news of kids being detained far away and then forget about it later.
“This is something that we can change,” he said.
Mary Kay Ryan, a 65-year-old member of Chicago DSA, said even as a long-time activist, she was not aware of the centers in Chicago. She said she has an 8-year-old granddaughter who is half-Mexican, making the cause hit close to home.
“Anybody who has children, or had children, should take this personally,” she said.
As part of a week of actions, the group will protest from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. each day through Friday, plus 4:30-6:30 p.m. Friday at Heartland offices on LaSalle Street. The week will culminate at 2 p.m. Saturday with a demonstration with Little Village Solidarity Network at Heartland’s detention facility in Rogers Park, according to a media advisory.
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