UPDATE: 200 protest at Champaign hotel where ICE agents said to stay

UPDATE: 200 protest at Champaign hotel where ICE agents said to stay

Saturday's protest drew a sign-carrying crowd of about 200 along North Prospect Avenue in Champaign.

Chanting “no hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here,” protesters gathered outside Drury Inn and Suites, suspected home base for ICE agents who operate here.

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CHAMPAIGN -- Dozens of protesters plan to gather today outside Champaign's Drury Inn and Suites to push back against what they say is a growing presence of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in the area.

The protest is being organized by the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center, which earlier this week hosted a sign-making event, and is a response to reports that ICE agents coming from St. Louis stay at the Drury Inn when on assignment here before taking any detainees to Pulaski County Jail in southern Illinois.

"The hotel is effectively being used to facilitate deportations," according to a Facebook event page for the protest. "We rally in solidarity with the families living in constant fear from being stopped by ICE. We are allies with the families seeing their loved ones taken away. We demand an end to the raids! We want to send a strong message to ICE that they are not welcome in CU!"

Staff at the Drury Inn confirmed they do offer a government discount to state and federal government workers but would not confirm if ICE agents operate out of the hotel.

Brian Dolinar, program direction at the Independent Media Center, said that, over the past several months, he has worked alongside the Champaign-Urbana Immigration Forum to find out just how many times ICE agents have operated in town. In a press release, he wrote that since President Donald Trump's inauguration, "ICE has targeted our community on more than 30 separate days."

Dolinar said he received confirmation from METCAD that the last time ICE agents were in town was May 29, but there's no way of knowing officially if or when they're in Champaign-Urbana, as agents often operate in plain clothes and use nondescript vehicles.

Most recently, Dolinar said, a father of four was arrested by ICE agents and is currently facing deportation proceedings.

But Dolinar wants the community to step up and help track agents while they're in town. He said the demonstration today will be about one thing: telling ICE they are not welcome here.

"Everybody is seeing the news on what's going on at the border," Dolinar said. "ICE is separating families, taking children away, and unfortunately this stuff is happening in Champaign-Urbana. They're picking people up at their homes, at the courthouse, at workplaces. This is going on frequently, and it's going on here."

Dolinar isn't alone in his thinking. At least a dozen local organizations, such as the Graduate Employees Organization, the Champaign-Urbana Democratic Socialists of America and Sanctuary of the People, have endorsed efforts to protest ICE today. Urbana's city council has passed a resolution making it a sanctuary city for the between 7,000 and 11,000 undocumented immigrants living here. And Champaign Mayor Deb Feinen has proclaimed her city a "welcoming community," too.

Ashli Anda, who will speak at the rally, said she wants to encourage community members to pay attention to what has been going on in their own backyard and not look away. The key, she said, is to be active in making Champaign-Urbana the "welcoming community" and sanctuary that it nominally is.

"I see a lot of people saying, 'This is so hard to watch,' and 'What is my country turning into,'" she said. "And there's this temptation to turn away when there's atrocity happening in front of your eyes. But when it's happening here at home and there are community members who are being taken away, we have to stand up, look at it, give it our attention and let people know that here we welcome people and that people should be safe regardless of their citizenship."

Anda is confident that a tight-knit community like Champaign-Urbana can more easily organize than some of the bigger cities she has lived in, like Los Angeles and Boston.

"We have a distinct advantage here because we can set the standard," she said. "As a smaller community, when more of us band together and publicly protest, we can say as one that this is unacceptable. We can say the methods are unacceptable. And we can say that we don't agree with how things are going."

Aside from these kinds of protests, C-U Immigration Forum president Tom Garza said there's not really anything that can be done to stop ICE. During the Obama administration, he and local law enforcement met with regional ICE officials to set up a line of communication.

What Garza found was that ICE would communicate with law enforcement and outline specifically who they were looking for.

"But after the election, everything changed," he said. "At one point, there was at least a general desire amongst some local people to mitigate the unnecessary concern among the Latino community that was going on. But now we don't know anything. They're basically out for anyone they can get, from anywhere they can get them."

Garza called ICE's current tactics "performances" made to frighten, anger or impress people. But, he said, it's all based on a problem that doesn't exist.

"The entire notion that there is an immigration crisis is itself part of the performance," he said. "It's entirely made up. They make up the crisis, then beat the drum about it so that when they act on it, they can say their reaction is justifiable. And they're successful in their attempts to drive the conversation about immigration to 'we have to do something about it.' But almost nothing would change if we did nothing, except that fear would go down."

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