Belmont Cragin residents are fearful after ICE agents shoot a neighbor

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Thirty-sixth Ward alderman Gilbert Villegas speaks at a gathering of Belmont Cragin residents Tuesday, demanding an investigation into the shooting of a 53-year-old man shot in his home by federal immigration agents. - JAMES FOSTER/FOR THE SUN-TIMES
  • James Foster/For the Sun-Times
  • Thirty-sixth Ward alderman Gilbert Villegas speaks at a gathering of Belmont Cragin residents Tuesday, demanding an investigation into the shooting of a 53-year-old man shot in his home by federal immigration agents.

Belmont Cragin residents say they want answers after a man was wounded by gunfire from federal immigration agents who entered his home early Monday morning.

"In this community, there is fear now," said 36th Ward alderman Gilbert Villegas at a press conference in front of the home Tuesday afternoon. "People don't know what's going to happen and if ICE agents are going to be knocking on doors and trying to get in."

Around 6:15 AM on Monday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents entered the home in the 6100 block of West Grand Avenue to arrest someone, according to ICE.

"ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents attempted to make an arrest," ICE spokeswoman Leticia Zamarripa wrote in an e-mailed statement, "when a second individual pointed a weapon toward agents. As a result, a special agent discharged his firearm and shot the individual, injuring him."

Villegas's office confirmed that 53-year-old Felix Torres Sr. was the man shot. The alderman's office couldn't confirm the names of the other family members present at the time of the shooting.

The alderman said he met with Torres's family, who said that Torres is still in the hospital in stable condition and may be discharged later this week. The alderman also said Torres and his family haven't been able to speak directly to one another while he's been in the hospital. (Torres's family wasn't available for comment.)

Anytime an ICE officer discharges his or her firearm in the line of duty, the ICE Office of Professional Responsibility reviews the matter, according to the agency's statement. Due to the ongoing review, no further details have been released at this time.

"We want [ICE] to be transparent because of all the conflicting stories that we're hearing about what happened to a longtime resident," said Diane Limas, a board member with Communities United, a grassroots social justice group based in Albany Park. "It's fearful for everyone, but especially for the undocumented community. You never know if ICE is going to the right address, and you never know if they even have a legal warrant. ICE knocks on a door and you open it to ask, 'Can I help you?' and ICE is standing there with their guns. It's very scary."

Villegas said his office has been fielding many calls from worried constituents since the incident. On a typical day, he says, his office gets around 60 calls. After the shooting on Monday, his office received more than 200 calls from concerned residents.

Graciela Guzman was among the northwest-siders who came to the press conference Tuesday to try and get clarity on the incident, and to show support for the immigrant community.

"I've been hearing from families nonstop, and they're concerned about what's going on with immigration," Guzman said. "There's just a clear fear here, and people really want answers.

"People are used to seeing bad CPD behavior that's similar to this incident," she added. "They're not used to seeing ICE and how it handles its relationship to a sanctuary city."

Under Chicago's Welcoming City Ordinance, police officers and other city employees are forbidden from asking about a person's immigration status or handing undocumented immigrants over to federal employees except in cases where the person has a criminal warrant, a prior felony conviction, a pending felony prosecution, or is in a gang database.

But as a federal agency, ICE can operate in Chicago as it sees fit, and President Donald Trump has promised to crack down on all forms of illegal immigration. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has promised to hold firm on protections for immigrants even as the president and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have threatened to withhold federal funding from Chicago and other sanctuary cities.

The Chicago Police Department has confirmed that it did not cooperate or collaborate with federal agents during Monday's incident. The department had been advised that Homeland Security, the agency responsible for ICE, was going to be in the area, but wasn't given specifics about anyone being taken into custody. Officers from the 25th District then responded to the shooting, CPD confirmed.

Carlos Aguilar, a teacher from Belmont Cragin's Marvin Camras Children's Engineering Elementary School, expressed concern about the shooting's potential impact on his first-grade students. His mother was an undocumented immigrant, he says, and he grew up with the fear that his mother would be taken away from him.

"As a teacher, I now have to figure out how to teach first-graders that they have rights and that there are people who may be trying to take those rights from them," Aguilar said. "But at the same time, I want to make my classroom a place of refuge and a safe zone."

The worried are not without recourse, however. During Tuesday afternoon's press conference, Ruth Lopez-McCarthy, an attorney with the National Immigrant Justice Center, said her organization was providing legal consultations at Heartland Human Care Services, 5715 W. Belmont, for people concerned about their immigration status.


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