Thousands are being deported without a chance to appear before an immigration judge.
UNO: Taking Organizing to a New Level, or Leaving the Community Behind?
Solis, executive director of the non-profit United Neighborhood Organization, publicly endorsed U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a former alderman running for his second term, and Alderman Ambrosio Medrano (25th), who was running for Democratic state central committeeman.
After Gutierrez won a decisive victory, he thanked Solis for his support but cautioned him against "working the ward." As UNO's leader, Solis couldn't afford to be so political, he said.
"Danny ... needs to have the ability to reach out to several kinds of businesses and politicians in Chicago," Gutierrez said. "If he says, "These are my feelings about a politician, it implies a lot more than it used to."
Mention UNO in the mid-'80s, and people would say, "UNO, what's that?" he said. "That's not how it is in 1994."
UNO's profile has changed considerably since 1980, when a former Jesuit priest and a Mexican American activist founded the group on Chicago's Southeast Side. Their goal was to improve the neighborhood and serve as a referral agency for problems concerning health, education and housing.
UNO's leaders used aggressive organizing and confrontational tactics to push for change. Rowdy UNO protesters once waited outside a bathroom until a prominent Illinois politician agreed to talk with them.
Today, some say UNO is quieter but more effective, using negotiation and compromise to forge alliances with the people and institutions it once attacked.
UNO's detractors say it has lost sight of its mission and abandoned its constituents. The organization is now driven by a zeal to consolidate political power and wrest control of local school councils and housing development projects, they said.
"UNO is just using people for its own benefit," said Henry Martinez, executive director for the Mexican Community Committee of South Chicago, a Southeast Side service organization.
"For the sake of power they'd do anything," added Carlos Heredia, executive director of Por Un Barrio Mejor (For a Better Neighborhood), a community group in South Lawndale.
UNO's admirers say the group has delivered power to Latino communities. UNO's citizenship and voter registration campaigns have attracted national attention, turning Danny Solis into the kind of leader some say should run for political office.
In 1987, UNO's Little Village affiliate held a fund-raising dinner. It was "a nice neighborhood kind of thing with a local Mexican band," said co-founder Mary R. Gonzales, who left UNO in 1988 and now runs local programs for the Gamaliel Foundation, training community organizers. Tickets ranged from $35 to $45, she said.
But the dinner lost $440, tax documents show.
By contrast, when UNO held its fourth citywide fund-raising banquet in 1993, 600 people came to the Chicago Hilton and Towers to honor businessman Ronald J. Gidwitz, chairman of the board of trustees of the City Colleges of Chicago.
Net profit for the evening: $140,000.
While UNO has grown steadily, the source of its income has changed. Gone is the reliance on small donations from churches and community members. Today, UNO operates less like a neighborhood group and more like a business.
In 1985, UNO earned all but $25,000 of its $258,000 total revenue from services it provided to affiliates and other neighborhood groups. By 1993, the organization's income had jumped by 240 percent, to $876,000. And with the growth came variety. Only 9 percent of UNO's money came from program services; grants, contracts and the annual dinner accounted for the rest, tax records show.
Not everyone is happy with UNO's good fortune. "For their banquet the tickets were between $150 to $200, which is outrageous for the people in the community," said August Sallas, a columnist for the Lawndale News and president of the Hispanic American Labor Council.
"They don't relate down to the grass roots level for funds anymore," he said.
Instead, Solis has pushed UNO closer to the city's business and political leaders, who have helped raise the group's profile and increase its bottom line.
"I have pretty good entrepreneurial skills and I see opportunities and take advantage of them," Solis said.
In 1989, Chicago's first-ever elections for local school councils became a way for UNO to "quickly develop relationships with the business community, the political community and media," he said.
School reform dollars poured into UNO's coffers. In 1989, six foundations and non-profit education groups gave UNO about $213,000-40 percent of its budget-to train people to run for the school councils, tax records show.
School reform has paid off in other ways. Daley appointed Bertha G. Magana, former UNO director of development and administration, to the Chicago Board of Education in 1990. UNO also takes credit for Daley's first deputy mayor for education, Lourdes Monteagudo; and his current aide, Leonard J. Dominguez.
"I give Solis a lot of credit for playing the big boys' game," said Carmen Prieto, assistant director of the Wieboldt Foundation and UNO's former business manager.
Since 1991, the "game" has produced $511,382 in city contracts through federal Community Development Block Grant funds, records show. UNO used the money to fund a development study of the Southeast Side and to rehabilitate low-income housing on the Southwest Side.
"I like hard money," Solis said. "I like money for a quid pro quo: You need to get naturalized, you pay a reasonable amount for that."
"I always thought that going to foundations was like going with hat in hand begging for money," he said. "It is like performing like a monkey: 'This is what I do, let me have some money. Look, I'm a poor Mexican wearing my serape, sombrero and huaraches, (so) give me some money.'"
He added, "As for government money, what if the mayor and UNO don't get along? And what if the mayor doesn't get re-elected?"
Last November, UNO hosted a swearing-in ceremony for 2,000 new citizens-about half of them Latino-at the Medinah Temple on the near North Side. Afterward, UNO officials led many of the new Americans down to the temple's basement and registered them to vote.
UNO has turned citizenship into a cottage industry. In 1993, the group helped 2,805 immigrants become citizens, according to the Chicago office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. (The Polish Welfare Society came in a distant second, with 1,440 cases.) And UNO appears ready to break its own record this year; as of May 11, it already had processed 1,963 immigrants.
In 1993, UNO set a five-year goal to naturalize 130,000 Latinos. The organization has become so proficient that Gutierrez told the Chicago Tribune last fall that Danny Solis had the most sought-after list of new voters in town.
The "list" is actually a computer database kept in UNO's office at 125 N. Halsted St. It contains the names and addresses of 20,000 soon-to-be and recently naturalized citizens, most of them Latino.
Amparo Murillo, a Mexican who was naturalized at the Medinah ceremony, said he never would have attended if not for UNO. "They went to our houses and asked if we wanted to become citizens," he said. "They've got a good system."
UNO's naturalization efforts have not been lost on Daley, either, Solis said.
"The mayor knows that these people, the majority of them, are lunch-bucket value people, who probably are going to vote Democratic, so he looks favorably at our work," he said.
UNO's critics say the group is using naturalization for partisan political purposes.
"UNO is looking to expand their political power base ... have them (new citizens) registered to vote and vote as a bloc," said Alderman Ricardo Munoz (22nd), whom Daley appointed Jan. 4, 1993 to replace Jesus G. Garcia, who was elected to the state Senate. Daley chose Munoz over a former UNO employee backed by Solis.
UNO's relations with Garcia have always been strained, yet on Sept. 13, 1991, the Little Village affiliate gave $450 to Garcia's Senate campaign.
"It was an effort to try to make peace with (Garcia)," Solis said. "Some of the Little Village board members thought it would be good to give him some support... and perhaps he'd support us at our annual dinner."
The contribution could have threatened UNO's non-profit status, said Kenneth L. Cunniff, an attorney who has represented non-profit organizations for 14 years.
"That's the one absolute prohibition," he said. "They can't support a candidate. It's clearly improper and could cause them to lose their tax-exempt status."
Solis called the donation "an oversight." If the board members made a mistake, they did so "innocently enough" to try to work more closely with Garcia, he said.
UNO officials have also made individual contributions to Garcia. UNO Chicago board member Maria Montes donated $360 to Garcia between February and April 1992. Little Village board member Mark T. Doyle contributed $330 between September and December 1992.
UNO also has ties to the Hispanic Democratic Organization, a political action committee, which on March 18 held a fund-raiser honoring William M. Daley, the mayor's brother. Three UNO board members were among the 23 sponsors: Solis; Doyle, president of Second Federal Savings and Loan Association of Chicago; and Carlos Carrillo, then-business agent of Local 881 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. The local's political action committee donated $5,000 to the Hispanic Democratic Organization.
Since its March 1, 1993 founding, the organization has raised more than $160,000, campaign records show.
Solis defended political activity "as long as you separate yourself from your particular field of work. I can't say, 'I'm the UNO director and I want all of the UNO membership to support so and so.'"
UNO has sided with Daley on issues that other Latino organizations have opposed. The group backed Daley's proposal for a third airport on the Southeast Side, against the wishes of local residents, including many Latinos.
"When the question comes up on whether to support a community issue ... or go with the mayor, (UNO has) been going with the mayor," Munoz said.
In March, Solis appeared before the Chicago Plan Commission in favor of moving the Maxwell Street Market to make way for the University of Illinois at Chicago.
"He testified against us. The son of a gun testified in favor of the city government," said Natalio Llanas, a Maxwell Street vendor. "Everybody was shooting him down. We shouted 'traidor' (Spanish for traitor) and that he was two-faced."
Delia Gamez, organizer for the 200-member Union of the Maxwell Street Market Vendors, said that when Solis stood up and testified against the Mexican vendors, politically he kissed the community goodbye."
In January, UNO Staff Director Phil Mullins stood at the front of a conference room in Oak Brook, lecturing to a group of neighborhood leaders. UNO holds such training sessions four times a year.
"It's harder to reach an agreement with the mayor if you call him a jackass," Mullins said. One participant asked, "Where do you draw the line between selling out and negotiating?"
Mullins replied: "You draw the line based on reality. You take what you can get. Principles are what people rely on when they don't have power."
Adds Todd Dietterle, director of programs for UNO Southeast: "People will say that (what we do) is political opportunism. But frankly, I would like to be around the table (where decisions are made). I don't want to be three blocks away from the table bitching and moaning."
That's a far cry from how UNO got started. In 1980, Gregory Galluzzo, a former Jesuit priest, married Mary Gonzales, then a neighborhood activist, and the two decided to organize Chicago's Latino neighborhoods.
They modeled their group after a San Antonio organization called Communities Organized for Public Service, or COPS, and borrowed liberally from the teachings of famed community organizer Saul Alinsky.
The idea was to "create the power needed to really change systems," Gonzales recalled. UNO began as a coalition between labor and churches amid the steel mills on the Southeast Side. A second chapter was added a year later in the Back of the Yards neighborhood on the Southwest Side. In February 1984, UNO of Chicago was incorporated as the umbrella group for the chapters; UNO Little Village was founded two months later.
Solis was named executive director in June 1986. He served as advocacy coordinator at the Latino Institute from 1983 to 1986 and was executive director of the Pilsen Neighbors Community Council from 1980 to 1983.
In its early years, UNO was often drawn to confrontations with public officials. In 1983, UNO members blocked a landfill on the Southeast Side and forced the Chicago Police Department to release data showing that the Back of the Yards received inadequate police protection.
In October 1984, when former U.S. Sen. Charles Percy failed to show up at a community forum as promised, hundreds of UNO demonstrators tracked him down at a local radio station and waited for him as he hid in a women's bathroom.
The incident was "an immature political maneuver," Mullins recalled. "We were a young organization then, but after that people took our meetings more seriously."
Still, UNO has since had some rocky relationships. In 1989, the group signed a one-year contract with the Near Northwest Neighborhood Network, an alliance of churches, schools, community development organizations and block clubs. For its $10,000 membership, the Network was entitled to UNO's leadership training and various administrative services.
In 1991, UNO sued the Network, claiming the group owed more than $40,000 in membership dues and other fees. The Network filed a counterclaim, alleging that UNO failed to provide the promised services. Both sides agreed to drop their claims on May 22, 1992.
Network Executive Director Judith Tietyen said the group is unlikely to work with UNO in the near future.
"Given the struggle of all community organizations to stay alive, it is regretful that organizations become each other's adversaries from time to time," she said. "We should be allies, all on the same side."
Pilsen Neighbors pulled out of UNO in 1988 after Solis and Gonzales split over UNO's direction. "Danny Solis' desire was to control the whole thing without being accountable to anyone," Gonzales said.
Solis said Gonzales and Galluzzo tried to force him out as executive director because he wanted UNO to pursue school reform. When their efforts failed, the UNO board discontinued its contract with the Gamiliel Foundation, which Galluzzo joined in 1986, he said.
Critics say UNO hops from issue to issue, focusing on causes that may attract publicity, but do not necessarily meet community needs. For example, some say UNO did not need to get involved in naturalization because local Latino groups already were in the field.
But Solis said he hopes UNO's program will become a national model. "I want the rest of the nation to sit up and take notice," he said.
If that happens, it won't be long before Solis' name is mentioned as a candidate for alderman, or even Congress. And with an enviable network of political friends and a ready-made list of would-be voters, Solis could make a formidable candidate.
While UNO's leader is cautious about his future, he acknowledges that he is considering a political career.
After all, he said, "If you are elected by a majority of people, there is nobody that can say you are not a leader."
Contributing: Burney Simpson
Intern Joy Sterner helped research this article.