Every day, Organized Communities Against Deportations (OCAD) works tirelessly to stop deportation cases across Chicago. Comprised of “undocumented, unapologetic, and unafraid organizers,” OCAD grew out of the Immigrant Youth Justice League, a group that supports and empowers undocumented young people.
“We understood that our stories as undocumented youth were powerful to mobilize political conversations, but we also created a space that was very healing for many of us,” says Antonio Gutierrez, OCAD’s strategic coordinator. “We’re dealing with individuals who are experiencing trauma.”
In 2021, the General Assembly passed the Illinois Way Forward Act, which led to the release of a number of undocumented immigrants from detention centers, as well as the closure of three centers in the state. Since their release, OCAD has been offering individual therapy sessions for the former detainees address their mental health needs. The organization has employed a Spanish-speaking therapy team with culturally relevant experience and competencies to deal with the psychological trauma people experience in detention.
In 2022, this program received a first-time grant from Nuestro Futuro, an affinity fund housed at The Chicago Community Trust. This was matched by an additional grant from Hispanic Federation. According to Gutierrez, all of this funding has supported and enhanced OCAD’s mental health work. In conjunction with the Chicago Torture Justice Center, the organization plans to offer monthly healing circles, as well as training sessions for staff members to learn how to lead future healing circles.
Particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health services have emerged as a critical need for immigrants who have experienced psychological trauma. However, Gutierrez says that those services need to be tailored to help them make sense of the politicized ways in which they have been subjected to rejection, confinement, and other abuses.
“Many of us have internalized that trauma,” they said.
With these considerations in mind, OCAD is working to make sure that former detainees have the services they need as they process their experiences.
“OCAD is attempting to make detainees whole again from their traumatic experience while in custody in the detention centers,” said Lety Gonzalez, a member of Nuestro Futuro.
Steering Committee who is deeply involved in the fund’s grant making. With immigration being one of Nuestro Futuro’s grant making priorities, Gonzalez underscores how these services are especially important because navigating the U.S. immigration system can be daunting and overwhelming.
Additionally, OCAD is playing a critical role in supporting the thousands of asylum seekers from Venezuela who have routinely been bused to Chicago from the southern border since last summer. The organization’s efforts have included donation drives and workshops on how to navigate Chicago and its employment, healthcare, and education systems. OCAD hopes to extend the workshops through spring 2023 and increase media coverage of the new arrivals so the public can understand why they are here and what they need.
“We’re trying to ease the experience as much as we can,” said Gutierrez.