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The McCormick Herald — A Ministry of Protest

The newest edition of the McCormick Herald is here!  Read the full issue: Herald February 29

In this issue, MTS student Stephanie Quintana-Martinez was part of an action with the #Not1More campaign on February 16th. Stephanie sat down with student and Herald editor David Goodwin for a little to discuss her experience and how it connected ministry and education.

David Goodwin: Tell me about the action on Monday.

Stephanie Quintana-Martinez: So this action was organized by the Organized Communities Against Deportation, and they are at a Chicago- based grassroots immigrant led organization, which means that folks organizing with OCAD (that is the acronym) are mostly largely undocumented themselves. And they’ve been doing several things: have been participating in the Not One More Deportation campaign, which is the national campaign, and they’ve been doing local advocacy on issues like criminal justice, immigration justice, and they’re also doing anti deportation advocacy and anti-deportation defense. So, they’re busy and they’re awesome.

When I say that they’re doing anti-deportation defense, that means there are non-attorneys who are connecting people who are in deportation proceedings, or might be in deportation proceedings, with folks who are attorneys, or who have some sort of legal knowledge of the immigration system; so they support them and accompany them through their immigration proceedings.

DG: Are they paid to do this?

SQM: No, this is pro bono. They’re all volunteers. And the organization, I understand, is working to- wards having staff, but it’s not something I’m cleared on. And I think it’s something they’re still establishing, so [OCAD] is still largely grassroots organizing. They are affected people themselves, and they have a huge

participation in the Not One More campaign, so they’ve been doing this for a while and they are great. They are amazing.

DG: What does an action like this look like when you’re undocumented?

SQM: Well, that’s what I think is one of the most courageous things I’ve been able to witness. That was not something I knew–or I did know, but I was not super mindful of when I was getting ready to participate. I’m coming from this organizing background with day laborers, with undocumented workers in Tucson. And on my first day of work at the worker center there was an action in front of the Democratic Caucus. Obama was about to be reelected–my first day was in August of 2012–and there was an action with people without papers in front of where Obama was speaking. One of the workers from the worker center was there, and he was undocumented, he didn’t have any papers, and all of the participants were also undocumented, and their message was “Undocumented and Unafraid.”

It’s such a courageous thing. It’s such a powerful thing to witness: people just declaring that they’re not afraid, and they’re going to be vocal about their identity and their demands, and all of their requests.

[Monday’s Action] was the first action that OCAD organized that has been open for allies to participate. So, in our group we were very diverse. There were people from Assata’s Daughters, BYP 100, people that were friends of OCAD, or had been participants of OCAD, and they were also undocumented folks as well.

DG: Can you tell me a little bit about the action?

SQM: So what happened, on Tuesday at 7:45 am, was that we blocked the street before Immigration Customs and Enforcement [ICE]. There was a lot of traffic, and so we wanted to disrupt business as usual with the message that, you’re not going to go on with your day if you keep on deporting families. And, we’re here to remind you; we’re here for you to see us. Right in front of the ICE building. All of our messages were on the ground so that you could see from above. Then we blocked the street in order to disrupt traffic.

We were arrested by 9:00 am. We stopped traffic for an hour and a half, which I thought was not a long time, but in downtown Chicago that’s peak hour traffic. It was great.

We got a lot of media attention and I think that’s the most important thing to have. We were on every major channel in Chicago, every major newspaper in Chicago, and we were on CBS, ABC, and Democracy Now. I was proud. We did get bystanders and people that stopped and just watched, but we also had a lot of support from other organizations that were invited. They were there for us.

See the crowd on the sidelines supporting you, watching you. It was pretty decent crowd, pretty good crowd of people.

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Activists shut down Congress Avenue on Feb. 16 to protest ICE raids

DG: How did you feel participating in this event?

SQM: I was honored that I was asked to participate. I’m new to Chicago, I’m new to the community. I knew the folks that were organizing because I was working with them last semester in another capacity. I was showing up to their meetings and they knew me from my work in Arizona, so they were not entirely un- familiar with my face or with my work. But still, it was an honor because I feel like I’m new to the community, and there is a process of trust that needs to hap- pen. So I was honored to be asked to participate.

I used to also be a service provider in Immigration Detention, so I was somehow accountable to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, because I had to go in and do social services for people through a nonprofit. And even when I was not working for them, or not involved with them, I still had to negotiate with them, so I didn’t want to risk that access that I had to negotiate with immigration about some of my clients. I felt like I couldn’t participate in actions like this, so other than feeling honored, I felt a huge shift in my capacity, in my role in the movement. Like this is what I came to seminary to do: to put my face on the street and say this is what I’m here for, this is what I’m called to do; and to do it open and upfront.

DG: Can you speak a little bit to your experience being arrested?

SQM: Yeah, so I want to divorce from the romanticism of being arrested. I think we respect a lot of people who are arrested, and I definitely understand that, because I’ve had really good comrades and really good colleagues who have been arrested, and I appreciated them so much for

what they were doing. But the most important thing was holding the space before getting arrested.

We were, with our bodies, holding the space to take a message, and in this situation, this particular demonstration before getting arrested, we had a program in which people who have been experiencing family separation, or who are in deportation proceedings, could speak. And I think that was the main objective: that we could carry their stories. So, when I was about to get arrested, I kept looking at this.

It’s something–it’s kind of scary. So the whole time when I was about to get arrested, I kept looking at these two kids, tiny kids–I don’t know, seven-years-old, six- years-old–and they were with their little jackets screaming from the sidewalk, “Not one more deportation!”

And they were just chanting, and chanting, and chanting. And while getting arrested, while they were taking me, I didn’t scream, I didn’t chant. I wanted my role to be a body, to be someone who was holding this space for those two kids who have their stories: to be able to tell their stories, and for their parents to be able to tell those stories.

That happened for an hour and a half before we were taken. Then we were in the custody of police for the next 8 hours.

DG: What did you do for those whole eight hours?

SQM: I thought a lot; I talked a lot with my other protestors. It was a really great group of people, so we just got to know each other more while we were at the police station. We also prayed a lot, and at noon-ish they put me in a cell by myself. So, when I was there I started to freak out.

DG: Was it a cell of bars, or walls?

SQM: It was walls. It was one of those tiny closets, with a tiny toilet and a water fountain. No cop, no nothing; just me in the cell with God. So I prayed and I did some yoga, and eventually did some more singing, some more praying, and did some more yoga, and repeat for a gazillion times, and then I fell asleep. At some point, I took a little nap at the police station

DG: That’s awesome! Seems even more courageous just to be like, “I’m going to sleep.”

SQM: [The action was] in the early morning and I was tired. They let us out at 4:00 pm because I remember being super stressed out trying to make it to [Intro. to] Theology at 6:00 pm.

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Activists chained themselves together to block traffic on a busy Chicago thoroughfare to protest ICE raids in early 2016

DG: How does the theology connect to this work?

SQM: We are actually now talking about local theologies, and what is the process of constructing theologies. And for me that’s really exciting because I’ve been really thirsty for how do I articulate my own theologies.

I love this theologian, she’s a mujerista theologian, her name is Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, and she talks about the spirituality of the picket line, and how she encounters the divine in places of struggle. I think this is everything about theology. This is everything about articulating your own faith and your own experiences with God through places where

you feel the presence of God. And there in the street they’re chanting, they’re being arrested, they’re locked to the box. I definitely felt the presence of God.

DG: But how does it connect to God, though? I think some people might say, “Oh, God is in heaven,” or maybe “in Bible studies.”

SQM: Because it connects me to my brothers and sisters. Because it connects me to the community. And I think that is where I can see God more clearly: in my relationship with other people and in the way I support them, the way I love them. It’s where I see God.

We see crucifixion all around us. We see people being deported to their death when we are doing deportation work or community justice work. It’s a life or death thing. Like yesterday, I was reading this article about kids who were being sent to Honduras that came across the border with- out any adults, and they’ve been removed from the country. They’re being sent back to die, and they have died. So, this is something that is like life or death, Jesus being crucified among us, and everywhere. And it’s our responsibility to notice, and to see, and to bear witness to that crucifixion.

A lot of folks who are coming from Central America, they are the ones who are being targeted by these raids. That’s one of the messages that we had: No more raids; don’t go into people’s houses and take them away from their families, and their sanctuaries, and their safe spaces. And the folks who are being subject to these raids are Central Americans fleeing violence in Honduras, in Guatemala, and in El Salvador. And there’s rampant gang violence. Central America has been destabilized by the US for more years than we can count. It goes way back. And it’s a real long story. But the issue is rooted in the intervention of the US in these countries; the US is accountable for this.

DG: How public does ICE make these deportations within the communities that they’re raiding?

SQM: When the raids happened at the beginning of the year they were very public. A couple days before Christmas, ICE announced that they were going to engage in these raids, that they were going to go into people’s homes and put them into deportation proceedings, particularly targeting Central American asylum seekers. So, even though the attention and the media’s messages have been focusing on these raids, raids do not only happen in these situations. They happen all the time, and everywhere.

It’s been recently talked about in a lot of different media outlets that they use awful tactics to get into people’s homes. They lie. They say they’re people they’re not. They say they’re looking for this person and they go into your house and they arrest you

So, when we talk about raids, particularly in public, these last round of raids have been incredibly public because they announce them, but raids are something that this community is afraid of all the time.

DG: When you mention it as a crucifixion, it really does sound like a very modern use of such a destructive and coercive punishment as crucifixion.

SQM: Yeah, and one of the things that was so ironic was that it was around Christmas time. People were getting ready to celebrate Christmas. In a way, different faith communities around the country were able to share that message and say that we are going to offer sanctuary. You say that you’re going to deport our brothers and sisters. We say we’re going to take them in, be- cause that’s exactly what we’re celebrating on Christmas. It’s exactly the whole message of hospitality, and we’re not going to be the folks that are turning Mary and Joseph away from the safe space.

It’s very public, and there was a lot of attention around it, but I want to make clear that raids are something that the community is afraid of all the time.

DG: Can churches really turn ICE away?

SQM: Yeah, they can. My church offered sanctuary to a woman and her family for a year and a half while they worked through deportation proceedings.

The church spent the year and a half making sure that the family was together, making sure that they were organizing, doing advocacy in different capacities at the local immigration facilities, providing some sort of legal relief for this person. From the local authorities to Washington DC, the church just went through all of the possible channels to make sure that this family would stay together. While they were doing, the folks that were working on advocacy, we were doing prayer vigils every night, we were hanging out with the family, we were getting to know them, we were being in relationship with them. It was a year and a half well spent.

DG: What are some next steps for you following the arrest?

SQM: I have a charge that I have to go to court for.

The most important thing is that the message got out there. As a community, it’s so great to be able to collaborate and to see inter-movement solidarity be- cause of the amount of people that participated in this action. And they were able to beautifully articulate their solidarity with the immigration movement, folks like Assata’s Daughters. There was an announcement saying how we have different struggles, our stories are different, but we’re still showing up for each other. So, I think the next steps have to keep nourishing those relationships. It’s not over and we’re going to keep doing this.

DG: What are the next steps for OCAD?

SQM: OCAD has been there for a long time, and I think they’re sticking to that message, that ICE is terrorizing our communities. We’re going to keep holding them accountable, we’re going to keep fighting for the dismantling of ICE. That’s the major [message]: we’re going to keep moving forward with the message that ICE is terrorizing our communities and we’re not going to continue to sit back while our people are being deported.

Everyone should have a right to live and be safe.

DG: How do you think seminarians and potential seminarians should think about deportation immigration and ICE in general?

SQM: I think that the most important thing for me is for people to trust the leadership of those who are affected by these systems. So, my invitation would be for folks to be in conversation with folks who are in their congregations, and invite their congregations to be in conversation with folks that are being affected by these issues, and putting forward their agenda and their requests, and to be in faithful challenging of the established rules and established laws.

I think that when folks talk a lot about this, it’s very politicized. They think, “Oh, it’s [just a legal matter],” and we do this terrible job of looking at the existing pat- terns and existing laws. There’s been terrible things in history that have been legal.

So, I think it’s very important to be in faithful conversation about this. Think about how this is destructive, how this is tearing com- munities apart, how this is affecting our neighbors, and we don’t just stop at being critical of that, but will respond to the leadership of those affected by it.