Gowns, galas, and protests

Demonstrators protest child immigration detention centers at Heartland Alliance annual gala

photo credit: Maya Dukmasova

On November 27, 2019, Chicago Reader published a story that followed activists as they posted up in front of the Swissôtel dressed in elaborate gowns with oversized papier-mâchè heads and cardboard hands covered in red paint. The garish effigies designed to resemble those of Heartland Alliance’s president, Evelyn Diaz and the executive director of the National Immigrant Justice Center, Mary Meg McCarthy. The NIJC is also owned by Heartland Alliance.

Reporter Maya Dukmasova paints a picture of over the top costumes and angry protestors stopping traffic on Wacker Dr. and shouting at guests arriving at the hotel for Heartland’s gala and some educators on premise for a conference.

Dukmasova goes on to give us some background into the current events. The protesters an alliance comprised of Little Village Solidarity Network, Rogers Park Solidarity Network, Rising Tide Chicago, and Free Heartland Kids had shown up to Heartland Alliance’s annual gala to voice their disdain for the company’s role in housing immigrant children that have been separated from their families under President Trump’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policies.

Demonstrator Rozalinda Borcilă states, “what they’re doing is no longer socially acceptable, so you cannot show your face in public and be a do-goody liberal social service agency if you are actually benefiting from incarcerating children.” Borcilă asserts that Heartland Alliance is merely attempting to confuse people by disguising their actions with euphemisms, “rebranded as care.”

In a correspondence sent to the Reader just days after the demonstration, Heartland president Evelyn Diaz claims that the company is doing a social good and if they were not providing shelter for these kids, “they would enter into for-profit prison systems across the country.”

Dukmasova then asserts that “Diaz and the protesters are essentially accusing one another of the same thing: caring more about their own interests than the welfare of migrant children.” She looks at the stance of each side. Heartland taking the position that these children “must” be housed somewhere due to governmental policy and that they are providing a safe space for them. While the protestors argue that the best place for these children would be with someone they know, as many have legal family members in the states.

So while, Heartland gala attendees dance and dine, protestors block the streets, in an effort to educate and win over people outside. Those people that have not already sided with the non-profit conglomerate. A measure that may be polarizing commuters with busy agendas, unable to make it to work on time or to pick up the kids due to the roadblock created by the demonstrators.

So the battle rages on with immigrant children the pawns in a political game focused on furthering agendas at their expense.

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