Migrant Woman Arrested After Asking to Use Bathroom at Chicago Police Station

Asylum seekers were pleading, “we are human, we are human."

A migrant woman was arrested at Chicago’s 8th District police station on Saturday after repeatedly asking to use the bathroom. The woman and her young child were part of a group of asylum seekers who have been forced to sleep outside the police station while awaiting city services, including appropriate shelter. Forcing migrants to sleep in and outside of police stations has resulted in numerous allegations of abuse, including sexual misconduct by police. In spite of these reports, the city of Chicago has continued to send migrants to police stations, including facilities where migrants say they have experienced sexual abuse. The allegations against police include the rape of underage migrant girl.

Migrants who are living in and outside police stations are forced to sleep on the floor, or outside, and depend on a network of mutual aid volunteers for food and other necessities. Some of those volunteers say Saturday’s arrest came after police stated that asylum seekers would be arrested if they asked to use the station’s public bathroom again. Local organizer Halle Frances Quezada Rasmussen, who has been involved in migrant support efforts, spoke with me on Sunday about Saturday’s arrest, and the conditions asylum seekers are faced with at Chicago police stations.

Kelly Hayes: What happened at the 8th district that led to a migrant mother being arrested on Saturday?

Halle Frances Quezada Rasmussen: After a tremendously traumatizing journey across several countries seeking safety, people are bussed to Chicago where they quickly learn they city is so unprepared for them that they must sleep outside of police stations with significant government imposed barriers to access jobs, healthcare, or housing on their own.

The Chicago Police have a federal consent decree outlining a long history of civil rights violations and yet, there is no way for people to report inhumane conditions. The 8th District has been particularly cruel to this vulnerable population.

On Saturday, September 9th, a group of asylum seekers approached the 8th District police desk to ask to use the bathrooms as there was only one filthy port-o-potty for 70 people. They had tried [calling] 311 to get it cleaned. 311 directed them to the desk. The desk officers gave them four different conflicting reasons for why they locked the bathroom and threatened to arrest them if they asked to use the bathroom again.

Asylum seekers were pleading, “we are human, we are human,” but ultimately left with no recourse. Without any ability to report abuses, people forced to live at District 8 took to telling neighbors driving by of the conditions they were facing. Lack of running water is a public safety hazard. When officers ordered them out of the street, they returned to the sidewalk. 8th District officers, in a disgusting attempt to demonstrate authority, not justice, swarmed this young mother.

Video shows her face looking pained, eyes angled down towards her son as over half a dozen cops grab and cuff her. She takes a step towards her screaming son and an officer puts his hand up to keep him away before she hangs her head to cry and releases the tension in her body that’s pulled in several directions.

The categorization of her resisting arrest is a stretch. Her body tensed as it was pulled violently by multiple officers and people yelled “why are you arresting her” in Spanish and “this is against her constitutional rights” in English.

Police treated the ordeal as some kind of game as they toyed with callers who called to urge her  charges be dropped.  Shortly after, police unlocked the bathrooms, falsely claiming they never denied access. Similarly, they wrote a false report alleging battery against officers that will jeopardize this woman’s asylum case and delay reunification with her son. It is a grotesque abuse of power in line with the history of civil rights violations and deceitful charges that landed them the federal consent decree. The arrest was not in the interest of public safety but in the interest of showing the most vulnerable among us that the police are not to be questioned.

KH: Do you know what the charges are at this time?

HFQR: Our understanding is they have charged her with three felony counts of resisting arrest resulting in injury to an officer. She did not assault anyone; she was the assaulted. It is particularly cruel as this charge will most definitely put her asylum case in jeopardy. She risked everything to come here under the belief that she and her son could be safe. Cops treated them as not even deserving of a safe bathroom. They will always carry this trauma.

KH: What can people do to support the woman who was arrested and her family?

HFQR: At this time we are asking that people call their states attorney to demand all charges be dropped against this woman. Her office number is here: (312) 603-1880.

We also ask that people continue to pressure alderman to provide dignified housing to all people. To be clear, dignified housing does not include police stations or tents. All people does include asylum seekers and unhoused Chicagoans.

KH: What else should people know about the conditions migrants are facing at police stations in Chicago?

HFQR: Aside from the predictable abuses that arise when vulnerable populations are forced to share a space with a government agency who has a long documented history of abusing power, people are also routinely denied access to running water, safe sleep spaces for infants, hygiene supplies, and more. The tokens of dignity that are afforded while people live in this pressure cooker come exclusively from volunteers. Volunteer medical groups occasionally visit stations and a group not affiliated with the police, Police Station Response Team, provides daily intake, medical escalation, over the counter medicine, clean clothes, food, hygiene supplies, bedding, tents and more.