CHICAGO (CBS) — With the blessing of Mayor Lori Lightfoot, several groups plan to rally outside the Marriott Marquis Chicago on Tuesday after the hotel decided to host a two-day U.S. Customs and Border Protection conference.
The conference kicks off Tuesday with several people scheduled to speak, including the Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan. The 2019 trade symposium will feature panel discussions and exhibits for federal government employees so they can learn more about the agency; from recruitment to operations support.
Every year the conference is held in a different part of the country, to accommodate trade partners, and this year it’s in Chicago.
Immigrant rights groups tried to get the hotel to cancel the convention, but they didn’t get very far.
More than 1,700 people signed an online petition, saying they oppose the conference being held in Chicago.
“By hosting the Customs and Border Protection Trade Symposium, Marriott is showing that they in fact are not an open and safe space for guests and community members, and are actively enabling CBP and its profiteer company collaborators to continue to build the deportation machine which is used by both CBP and ICE to terrorize immigrant communities,” the petition stated. “By hosting a conference full of CBP officials and collaborators, Marriott is participating in creating an unsafe environment for Chicago residents, and it needs to be known that CBP, ICE, & DHS are not welcome in our city.”
“In order to show that they truly stand with immigrants, Marriott must cancel the symposium and refuse to collaborate with CBP and ICE in any capacity moving forward.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot also tried to get the conference moved out of Chicago.
The mayor has made it clear in recent weeks she does not support President Donald Trump and his push to remove undocumented immigrants who face deportation orders.
“When it became clear that Marriott was unable to accommodate our demand, I mobilized city resources to facilitate the peaceful protest against the conference, ensure the protection of First Amendment rights and to safeguard all guests and visitors on the McCormick Place campus,” Lightfoot said in a statement.
Lightfoot said her top priority is the safety of the city, and its residents and visitors. She said that includes immigrants and refugees.
Chicago police officers conducted what appeared to be a sweep inside and outside of the hotel Tuesday morning.
Hundreds of people were taking part in the CBP Trade Symposium, including licensed customs broker Shane Hill.
“All industries that are doing trade compliance around the world, anybody who imports and exports really needs to have somebody to advise them on the proper regulations to do so, and to file on their behalf,” he said.
Hill said the conference provides an opportunity for people who work in trade and shipping to learn more about federal laws and regulations.
“Customs and Border Protection is not the same as ICE, so to speak. I mean, they’re in the same department, but what we do is more for industry,” he said. “We’re trying to help everybody to make sure that trade can flow, and that commerce can be beneficial for everybody.”
A spokesperson for CBP said the agency’s mission is not just about securing the border, but about helping facilitate trade and protecting revenue.
“CBP processed $2.65 trillion in imports in FY2018 and more than 29.7 million imported cargo containers at U.S. ports of entry. Overall, CBP collected approximately $52 billion in duties, taxes, and other fees in FY2018, including more than $40.6 billion in duties, an increase of nearly 23 percent over the previous fiscal year,” CBP spokesman Steve Bansbach stated in an email.
A Customs and Border Protection spokesperson said, “This annual trade symposium is a way to bring together the international trade industry and government to ensure we are meeting the needs of trade while being able to effectively enforce trade laws and regulations.” @cbschicago pic.twitter.com/ezr2KPNx90
— Vi Nguyen (@ViNguyen) July 23, 2019
“The annual Trade Symposium is a way to bring together the international trade industry and government to ensure we are meeting the needs of trade while being able to effectively enforce trade laws and regulations. Most of the people who attend the symposium are importers and private sector members of the international trade community who help keep not only our economy, but the world’s economy moving. CBP and other government agencies with impact on international trade, such as the Department of Commerce, are available for trade partners to discuss new trends and concerns in the industry.”
A spokesperson for Marriott said it has a “welcome all” policy when it comes to people and groups who want to host events at its hotels:
“In accordance with the company’s long-standing approach, allowing a group to use Marriott’s facilities in no way suggests the company endorses the group’s views.”
Several immigrant rights groups have planned a protest rally when McAleenan is scheduled to speak at the conference on Tuesday.