May 1 March Declares 'Immigrants Are Welcome Here'

Paul Swiech

The Pantagraph

Chanting "No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here" and "Immigrant rights are human rights," about 300 people marched Monday evening from outside the McLean County Museum of History to outside Bloomington City Hall to support immigrant families in McLean County.

 Photo by Gabriel Jiminez Glez

Photo by Gabriel Jiminez Glez

Responding to Trump administration comments about increasing deportations through partnerships between local law enforcement agencies and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, several speakers called for the City Council to adopt a "Welcoming City" ordinance, which would bar the city and Bloomington police from reporting people suspected of being in the U.S. illegally.

"We can't control what is happening in (Washington) D.C., but we can here," said Illinois People's Action board member Sonny Garcia, who was among several people who spoke at the rally in front of City Hall. He asked the City Council — which swore in newly elected members Monday evening in City Hall just before the rally — to "stand up and say 'no' to hate and be an example to the nation."

Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner came outside to welcome the marchers.

Calling the United States, "a nation of immigrants," Renner said "the better part of humanity has to prevail and, here in Bloomington, it will prevail."

Renner told the marchers that "our police force does not work with ICE" but stopped short of endorsing the Welcoming City ordinance.

"In this moment, there is no moral choice but to fight back. Because all of us are all implicated in what is being done, in our name, to our immigrant sisters and brothers." D. Dontae Latson, CEO, YWCA McLean County.

"In the face of overwhelming national enforcement, we need more than promises and words. We cannot only declare we are on the side of our immigrant neighbors and tell them everything is okay. We must decide to do more. We must decide to pass the Welcoming City ordinance." Charlotte Alvarez, executive director, The Immigration Project.

"I am an Uber driver. About a month and a half ago I had some riders try to assault and kidnap me. This was very traumatizing and I wanted my attackers to be prosecuted. But, I was advised not to press charges as it would be worse for me and my family because of our immigration case. I decided not to press charges against my attackers because of my husband's immigration status. It makes me very sad to know that these men never had any consequences for their actions and may act again." 'Stephanie,’ Bloomington resident.

"We may not be able to control what is happening in DC, but we certainly have the power to determine how our immigrant brothers and sisters are treated right here in McLean County," Sonny Garcia, Board Member of Illinois People's Action.

"We are here today to join our immigrant brothers and sisters in building power to advance our shared struggle. Together, we will fight for and win our collective liberation." Divah Griffin, Black Lives Matter Bloomington-Normal.

He told The Pantagraph earlier that the city legal department is analyzing a Welcoming City ordinance, but there are concerns.

Normal Mayor Chris Koos also told The Pantagraph earlier, "While I'm generally supportive of what they're trying to accomplish, that particular document is difficult to support because there are legal issues."

Renner and Koos have expressed concern about endorsing a document that puts police at odds with federal agents. Renner may issue a mayoral proclamation as an alternative to the ordinance.

But Jenn Carrillo, YWCA McLean County mission impact director, told The Pantagraph after the rally, "We need to go beyond a proclamation and codify it in an ordinance."

Carrying signs that read "Blono is better when we keep families together" and "Migration is Beautiful," many marchers — some shivering in the wind and 47-degree temperatures during the lengthy rally — also held plastic monarch butterflies. They have become a symbol of the immigration rights movement because they migrate from Mexico to the United States and Canada.

"Migration is not only natural but beautiful," said YWCA CEO D. Dontae Latson.

The Rev. Doug Hennessy, retired pastor of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Bloomington, said: "God's Word tells us every person without exception has inherent human dignity and is worthy of respect. That families are meant to be together. That this one small planet is meant to be shared, not divided."

A Welcoming City ordinance "would be an important way for our community to say to our brothers and sisters and families who are most immediately threatened by the current situation, that we stand in solidarity with them," Hennessy said.

"The war against immigrants is a war against people of color," said Divah Griffin of Black Lives Matter Bloomington-Normal.

Among those who marched and rallied were David and Abby Warfel of Bloomington and their sons, Sam, 15, and Joe, 10.

"We're here to support the immigrant community," Joe said. "No human is illegal."

"We want to help families to stay together," Abby said. "We wouldn't want to be separated from each other. We want others to have that same sense of safety."

"The national climate on immigration is very distressing and we want to do something to make our community safer," said David Warfel, noting his ancestors emigrated from Germany.

"I want other families to have the same opportunities that my family had," he said.

For highlights of the march, visit https://www.facebook.com/YWCAMcLeanCounty/videos/10155242100266382/