(Photo: Micah Uetricht)
Activists in Chicago are some of the nation's fiercest agitators for immigration reform, as more than two dozen were arrested at a civil disobedience at the entrance to a detention facility in the city's downtown area Tuesday, the second such action in a month.
But another Chicagoan is reportedly standing squarely in their path - one they will have to either win over or overwhelm if a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants is to be won this year.
Rahm Emanuel, President Obama's chief of staff and former Illinois representative, was reported this week to be holding the White House back from tackling immigration reform, an issue he once called the "third rail of American politics."
Emanuel is a well-known political pragmatist. He has skirted immigration in the past to avoid its potential fallout, and does not want to pick a potentially explosive and politically damaging fight on immigration that is unwinnable and will cost votes.
But many activists demand a plan for reform now, and are unconcerned with legalization's potentially negative consequences for Democrats' midterm prospects. They say deportations are tearing their communities apart, and they can't wait until after re-elections. A favorite Spanish chant at the rallies is "Legalizacion o no re-eleccion"; even Rep. Luis Gutierrez - a high-ranking member of the Democratic Party - said in a CNN interview last month that if Democrats take Latino votes for granted, Latinos will abandon the Democratic Party.
At a march to a detention center in downtown Chicago yesterday, many chants and speeches targeted Obama.
Not all Chicago reform activists bad-mouthed the party of their city's former representative. Members of the Service Employees International Union held signs calling for Republicans to stop stalling reform, and SEIU International Executive Vice President Eliseo Medina warned that if the party of the right remained recalcitrant, they would not receive a single vote for any office - "not governor, not mayor, not even dogcatcher."
But others at the rally seemed most angered by Emanuel and the Democrats.
"I don't know how these politicians can sleep at night," said Rachel Heuman of the Illinois Coalition for Immigration and Refugee Rights.
"The destruction of families [through deportations] is inhuman. It's completely immoral to play politics with people's lives, and it makes me infinitely angry."
As she spoke, Heuman was interrupted by a Department of Homeland Security officer: she was one of 30 to sit down and block the doors to a detention facility where immigrants facing deportation are sent in the city's South Loop, and was soon arrested.
Heuman's anger is echoed by the immigrant rights movement around the country, as proponents of legalization have been reinvigorated by the passage of Arizona's strict anti-immigrant bill SB1070. News of arrests in protest of the bill and in favor of reform is almost daily - recent sites of civil disobediences include:
Arizona continues to see civil disobediences (including nine students chaining themselves to the capital building, four undocumented students sitting in at Sen. John McCain's (R-Arizona) office and an ongoing boycott that has already cost the state millions of dollars.
The pressure for immigration reform is strong, and national rage seems ready to boil over. Emanuel and Obama's White House don't want to upset too many midterm swing voters and lose crucial seats in Congress. But as anger among the immigrant rights movement reaches a boiling point and activists are promising to withhold votes for Democrats, inaction on immigration reform could see Emanuel heading back to Chicago with the president by 2012.