Ruth Needleman remembers the horror that crept over her the first time she saw two white buses loaded with detained immigrants pull through the gates at the Gary/Chicago International Airport.

"I was almost paralyzed by the sight of it because it's so terrifying."

The Gary/Chicago International Airport remains one of the Midwest airports supporting deportation efforts of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

More than 12,000 immigrants have been flown out of the airport since ICE Air Operations began using the airport for detainee removal flights in June 2013. 

As of June 28, 12,509 people have been flown out of the airport since 2013, according to ICE.

Detained immigrants are bused into Gary from a detention center about 40 miles away in Broadview, Ill. From there, detainees are flown to other domestic airports before being transported to their native countries.

During 2016 fiscal year, ICE removed 240,255 people throughout the U.S., 58 percent of whom were previously convicted of a crime, according to the agency's latest published statistics.

Sister JoAnn Persch, who has prayed outside the Broadview Detention Center every Friday for the past decade before the immigrants are bused to Gary, said the climate surrounding immigration is getting worse but she won't let that discourage her. 

"It can be very sad, but we have to keep praying," she said.

A spokesman for the Gary/Chicago International Airport said the airport is prohibited from preventing flights in and out of the airport as a condition for receiving federal aid for airport projects.

"The Airport Authority is committed to fulfilling all of its obligations with the federal government," he said. "We do not make or enforce federal immigration policy. We run an airport."

Earlier this year, Gary became the first municipality in Northwest Indiana to become a "welcoming city," which provides some protection for noncitizens living in Gary.

After learning about the deportations flights, Needleman organized two protests outside of the airport in the northwest corner of the city.

During the most recent protest in May, two buses with blacked-out windows and a white van with tinted windows pulled into the west gate of the airport off of Industrial Highway as protesters marched near the front gate.

Needleman said she will continue her efforts to protest the deportations.

"The challenge is enormous because we don't see in the short term stopping the deportations," she said. "Nothing is more important than solidarity and that means building solidarity from the local level to a global level. This is going to take a collective effort from different constituency groups or we will fail."

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