GARY — About 50 people gathered at the entrance to the Gary-Chicago International Airport Friday to protest the use of the airport to carry out the deportation policies implemented by the Trump administration.
Frigid winds whipped banners and signs bearing the simple words "No Wall," "No Ban," "No Deportation" and "Resist." Other signs touted the need for job creation, not deportation. The protest was held at the airport, which organizers said is where people arrested as illegal immigrants are brought in buses from Northwest Indiana and the Chicago area by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office to be deported.
One of those who spoke at the vigil, Torre Fuerte, said the deportations don't create jobs or raise anyone's pay. If anyone's pay does go up, it is at the expense of others losing pay or jobs, he said, "and that's cannibalism." As vehicles driving by honked support, Raoul Contreras called the Trump policies of deportation and requiring people to register by religion fascism.
The vigil was organized by Northwest Indiana Resistance, which Ruth Needleman, a Gary resident and one of the group's organizers, said is a temporary umbrella coalition to help coordinate activities, bring different groups together, end the deportations, raise money and try to get "welcoming city" ordinances passed by area communities.
"We are not protesting the airport," Needleman said. "We are protesting ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). Our goal is to return the airport to profitability. No jobs are being created here (by the deportations). We would like to see the airport used for the benefit of the community."
She said Gary is studying the proposed welcoming city ordinance and could be the first community to approve it. The group is meeting with Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson Monday about the ordinance.
Needleman said a busload of possible deportees arrived during the vigil, but, instead of using the main entrance where the group gathered, it went to a second entrance. She said plans to follow the vigil with a news conference inside the administration building were canceled because the building's doors were locked shortly after the protesters gathered on the grassy area in front.
Airport spokesman David Goldenberg said the group didn't ask to use the building and hadn't applied for a permit. The doors were locked because no public meetings of the airport board were being held. Assistant Airport Manager Henry Mook said the airport terminal building is always locked because the airport has no scheduled airline service. Goldenberg said the airport tried to accommodate the protesters, making a restroom available for their use, if needed.
"When the issue was first raised at a board meeting about a month ago, we told them we don't play a role in the deportations, but we were willing to sit down and talk to them and point them in the direction to get answers," he said. "The board said they could hold the vigil as long as they didn't block the entrance. We opened the restroom to them and tried to be very accommodating."
Goldenberg said the ICE hires operators around the country to handle the deportations and the airport has no involvement other than meeting its obligation under the agreement to receive federal funding to keep the airport operating.