- Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a member of Congress from the Chicago area, spoke at a press conference outside of Incarnation Church on Sunday. He is flanked by Rev. Alexander Collins, left, of Redeemed Life Church in Mounds View, and Rep. Keith Ellison. (Photo: Mordecai Specktor)
Hundreds of people filled the pews of Incarnation Church in south Minneapolis on Sunday afternoon, and heard members of Congress and local activists call for an end to the punitive immigration system that is breaking up immigrant families.
Jewish Community Action is one of the many local groups comprising the United Families-Familias Unidas Minnesota Committee, which organized “A Community Gathering Urging a Stop to the Separation of Families.”
Rabbi Morris Allen, of Beth Jacob Congregation in Mendota Heights, offered one of the opening prayers.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., a featured speaker at the event, demanded that President Barack Obama “keep his word” and make reform of U.S. immigration laws a priority.
“We’re talking about an immigration system that really must stop the raids and deportations,” said the Chicago-area congressman, who pointed out that Obama won over 70 percent of the 10 million Latino voters in 2008.
In a remarkably forceful address, Gutierrez said, regarding the president’s inaction on the immigration issue: “You can’t stand for election and say you can bring people out of the shadows and into the light of day,” and then allow the immigration authorities to destroy families through deportations.
Gutierrez, who came to Minneapolis as part of a speaking tour of 23 cities across the U.S., was preceded by Rep. Keith Ellison at the podium in the cavernous Catholic church, located at 38th Street and Pleasant Avenue South.
“Immigration must be a front-burner issue in Washington now,” said Ellison, who called for a “clear path to citizenship for those people who are already living and working in the United States.” He said that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids, the agency now operating under the Department of Homeland Security, have had a brutal effect on immigrant communities.
“This year we have to get immigration reform back,” Ellison said.
“Families in our state are being torn apart, said Briana MacPhee, in a press statement from the United Families Minnesota Committee. “Children are being separated from their mothers and fathers, whole communities and local economies are being damaged as a result of an Immigration system that does not work.”
The mostly Latino crowd in the church also heard testimonies from Somali, Latina and Liberian young women about the devastating impact of ICE policies on their families.
Curej Bered, a young Somali woman wearing a crimson dress and head scarf, talked about her efforts to bring her parents and siblings out of the chaos of civil war in her homeland.
“My family and I often talk on the phone,” she said. “In spite of the cost of calling, it is all that I have.”
Burej continued: “Right now things are the worst that they have ever been in Somalia, and in May of this year, I lost two uncles who left behind seven cousins. Even though I know that things are terrible in Somalia, I sometimes wonder if I made the right choice. In my heart I often ask myself: Which is worse, trying to stay alive in a country in chaos and civil war, or having to live the rest of my life without ever seeing my family again? The simple thing I miss most of all is not being able to hug my mother.”
— Mordecai Specktor