Rallies against immigration ban break out across central Illinois

By Holly Eitenmiller For Chronicle Media

Nearly 1,200 supporters of immigration rights attend the Not in Our Town rally at the Bloomington Center for Performing Arts Feb. 1. (Photo courtesy of Mike Matejka)

On the heels of President Donald Trump’s immigration ban, a  grassroots organization filled the house Feb. 1 at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts in a rally to showcase racial and religious unanimity.

Not in Our Town volunteers began organizing the Community Solidarity Rally Jan. 29, an event geared to show support for diverse people, immigrants and different faith communities that are part of the McLean County community.

“We sat down on Sunday afternoon, right after the travel ban came out,” NIOT executive committee member Karen Schmidt said. “On Wednesday we had almost 1,200 people filling the auditorium, almost to capacity. The manager said she’s never seen the BCPA filled like it was that night.”

City of Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner, Imam Sheikh Abu Emad Al-Talla of Masjid Ibrahim mosque, and Town of Normal Mayor Chris Koos join hands in a show of solidarity at Bloomington’s Not In Our Town Solidarity Rally Feb. 1 at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts. (Photo courtesy of Mike Matejka)

Founded in 1996 in wake of church burnings across the country, NOIT remained active, though quietly. Then, with the rise in tensions that came from the 2016 presidential campaign the group began to reorganize.

“We saw the discord arise from the (recent mass) shootings. The race war was beginning again, it felt to us, so we began meeting again,” Schmidt said. “The first major event arose out of an attack on Muslims in another community, so we wanted to show our solidarity to our Muslim neighbors, and we really have a lot of religious diversity in our town, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist.”

Kenyan immigrant Sephrine Achesah, teaching assistant in Women and Gender Studies at Illinois State University, spoke of her experience as an immigrant from Kenya. Achesah is a teaching assistant in Women and Gender Studies at Illinois State University.

“I’m so excited that the community came together and that people of all races, all religious backgrounds saw we can be united as a community and put away any differences we have,” Achesah said.

Mike Matejka and Dontae Latson serve as moderators for the Not in Our Town grassroots rally at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts Feb. 1. Nearly 1,200 people filled the center. Volunteer Karen Schmidt said the group only began organizing the event Jan. 29, in reaction to President Trump’s immigration ban. (Photo courtesy of Mike Matejka)

As part of the event, state and federal officials were asked to answer two key questions at the rally, either in person or by a representative. The questions were, “Do you support the First Amendment, especially the free exercise of religion?”, and “Will you stand against and vote against any attempt to register people based upon their religion or beliefs?”.

Downstate director for U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, Bill Houlihan, was among the respondents.

“When people succeed in trying to weaken the First Amendment and the freedom of our religion, our  nation is diminished at its core,” Houlihan said on Durbin’s behalf. “Programs that target Arabs and Muslims in our country undermine our national security by playing into the ISIS narrative that the West is at war with Islam …

When America, the beacon of freedom in the world, gives in to fear and begins chipping away at civil rights, our enemies are emboldened and their ranks swell with new recruits.”

“The spirit of America isn’t for a more perfect union,” Bloomington mayor Tari Renner said of the Trump administration.

Citing the mantra of Martin Luther King, Jr. to “let the truth march on”, Renner said, “That’s the spirit we need to continue to remember in spite of the fact that we may have people today in national office … that want to divide us and take away basic human rights. We have fought for these. We are not going backwards.”

Those who attended the Not in Our Town rally on Feb. 1 at the Bloomington Center for Performing Arts hold up signs to put local congressmen on notice. (Photo courtesy of Mike Matejka)

Kara Quick Abbed mirrored that sentiment.

“I’m just not in agreement with what’s going on with the current administration, and pretty much from 2015 when the candidacy was announced there was a lot of negativity from Trump. I feel like there’s a lot of things he’s doing to promote hate and violence against certain groups,” Abbed said.

Her husband’s parents, Khairallah (Gary), and Samah, own Gridley Meats and immigrated to the United States from Pakistan as teenagers to escape the 1970s violence there. Abbed said she lived in the United Emirates capital, Abu Dhabi, and learned the sentiment of Muslims for terrorists.

“It’s part of their faith to have a fear of God. They all say these extremist Muslims have no fear, they don’t fear God, therefore (the terrorists) aren’t Muslims,” she said.

Protestors in Peoria rally react to Republican Congressman Darin LaHood’s support of the immigration ban put forth by the Trump administration. (Photo by Holly Eitenmiller / for Chronicle Media)

Growing up in central Illinois, Abbed said she came from a background of “loving everybody for who they are,” and sees events like the rally as a means to advance that belief and pass it on to her children.

Protestors gather outside of the downtown Peoria office of Republican Congressman Darin LaHood on Friday, Feb. 3. (Photo by Holly Eitenmiller / for Chronicle Media)

“I don’t understand why people have to be so hateful,” she said. “I see people for who they are, not stereotypes. This is a good opportunity to stand up for that.”

Later in the week, chants of “No ban, no registry! No  more white supremacy!”, “No hate! No fear! Refugees are welcome here”  resounded throughout downtown Peoria on Friday, Feb 3.

Initiated by Change Peoria, the impromptu rally, dubbed “No Ban, No Wall”, attracted an impressive contingency of protestors who gathered at the Federal Building on Monroe Street, the location of Republican Congressman Darin LaHood’s Peoria District office.

The controversial immigration ban put in place by President Donald Trump sparked a protest Friday, Feb. 3 in downtown Peoria. (Photo by Holly Eitenmiller / for Chronicle Media)

On Thursday, Feb. 2,  LaHood issued this statement: “We need to have a precise understanding of who and why people are entering our country. We are a compassionate immigrant nation for those looking to work hard, play by the rules and embrace American ideals. However, we know that there are terrorist groups and entities that want to harm America, and they are looking to use our immigration system against us and hurt innocent people. This action to strengthen our immigration vetting process as it relates to Syria and a small handful of other countries with a history of terrorist activity should be viewed as protecting our homeland and its citizens.”

Despite claims by LaHood that he’s spoken out against Trump’s immigration ban, Change Peoria protestors said the congressman should directly condemn Trump’s ban.




— Rallies against immigration ban break out across Central Illinois  —