John Halstead, of Crown Point, holds up a sign in protest of the deportations happening Friday at the Gary/Chicago International Airport in Gary on Friday, May 26, 2017. (Jim Karczewski/Post-Tribune)
John Halstead, of Crown Point, holds up a sign in protest of the deportations happening Friday at the Gary/Chicago International Airport in Gary on Friday, May 26, 2017. (Jim Karczewski/Post-Tribune)
Protesters clasped onto the fence Friday at the Gary/Chicago International Airport, shouting anti-deportation chants as two busloads thought to be full of people living in the U.S. illegally parked next to an airplane.

"It's probably their worst day or one of the worst days of their life," L.E. Whitman said of the men and women on the buses. "We want to make a lot of noise because we want them to know that there are people here fighting for them. That's really why we are at the airport today."

This was the second demonstration in the past two months organized by Northwest Indiana Resist, a group formed to protest Immigration and Customs Enforcement flights deporting people out of the country from the Gary/Chicago International Airport.

The demonstration started Friday morning with dozens of protesters in front of the airport, picketing and firing off a series of chants in Spanish:

"Deportaciones, no mas. Deportations, no more."

"El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido. The people united will never be defeated."

But the mood changed as 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.

"Isn't it disgusting?" Ruth Needleman, one of the organizers of the protest, asked rhetorically. "This is inhumane."

The crowd's chants grew louder and more aggressive as the buses, which the group believed carried the detainees, pulled into the airport. A pack of protesters flocked toward the buses but were blocked by a fence that surrounds the terminal.

The detainees are bused from a detention center in Broadview, Ill. After boarding an airplane at the Gary/Chicago International Airport, they are flown to other domestic airports before being transported back to their native country.

People peered through the black fence hoping to get a glimpse of the detainees before they boarded the airplane.

ICE officials were the first to get out of the vehicles to unload the buses and prepare the MD-83 plane, which holds more than 100 people, for takeoff. Before the detainees disembarked the buses, two Gary police officers instructed the protesters that they were on private property and had to move back on the lawn in front of the airport. There were no arrests.

After Gary recently became the first municipality in Northwest Indiana to become a "welcoming city," which provides some protection for noncitizen residents of Gary, Needleman said it's a conflict for the city to still be deporting immigrants out of its airport.

"It's a contradiction for them to be a welcoming city engaging in this dark-ops stuff," she said. "We do not want another deportation from this airport."

ICE Air Operations, the transportation division within the ICE Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations, first began using the Gary/Chicago International Airport for detainee removal flights in June 2013, according to ICE officials.

"If you are a person of faith or a person of value or a person that believes in human life and human rights, that's why we are here," the Rev. Cheryl Rivera said. "This is still America."

Whitman said it's important that organizers continue to put pressure on the airport and not fade away.

"We want a little bit of consistency," she said. "This has been going on for years, but there has never been a protest outside of the airport before us. We really want people to know that it's happening."

Needleman said they do not have a solution yet, but they are committed to stopping the deportations from the airport.

"We are going to need everybody's help in figuring out how we are going to put a stop to these deportations," she said. "We're going to have to put pressure on people. ... We're going to have to really make it clear that this airport and this city will not deport."

Copyright © 2019, Chicago Tribune