Family matters the focus of immigration rally in Urbana

Family matters the focus of immigration rally in Urbana

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URBANA — Nine-year-old Diego hasn't seen his stepfather for two weeks, since Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents picked him up.

A hearing today will determine whether the Champaign resident will be able to return to his pregnant wife, 1-year-old child and two stepchildren, as well as his job as a local roofer.

He was picked up by immigration agents two weeks ago, shortly after reporting to his probation officer following a DUI arrest, according to local activists.

He is the family's breadwinner, and his wife, who escaped poverty in Guatemala to come to the United States, had no way to feed her children until local residents raised $1,000 to help support them.

"When I went to see the family, they didn't even have food for two weeks," said Lucia Maldonado, a local advocate for Latino families.

"She is a stay-at-home mom; she relies on him for everything," Maldonado said. "She doesn't drive; she doesn't really know the community."

Their story was told at a rally Wednesday protesting ICE's presence in Champaign, where Diego and his 7-year-old sister, Maria, held signs reading, "I miss my dad, bring him back."

"I'm so sad when he's in jail," Diego said.

Speakers from Bend the Arc: CU, local religious organizations and other advocacy groups spoke against increased immigration detentions in Champaign-Urbana and the Trump administration's policy of separating children from their parents at the border, including those seeking asylum. A judge has ordered the children to be reunited with their parents, though more than 2,000 remain in detention centers.

Rabbi Ari Naveh of the Hillel Center said the Jewish people know about "rootlessness" and being forced to make a home in new places.

"Any time we separate a crying child from their parents, any time we deport hard-working Americans ... we have lost our morality," Naveh said.

It's not enough to say, "they should have come here legally," he said. "We must be better than this."

Joe Omo-osagie, a Nigerian immigrant and counselor at Parkland College, said he is a legal U.S. resident, but "my family is afraid of ICE," he said.

His wife, who is Caucasian, anglicized her last name and their children's out of fear, he said.

Omo-osagie also said he works with two talented students at Parkland who have had trouble with their studies because of immigration fears. One has temporary legal status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, for children brought to the U.S. by their parents. The other is here legally but worries that her parents may be deported.

"I fear for them. I want to see them succeed," he said, encouraging Americans to adopt hope, not fear.

Bend the Arc's Diane Ore and others urged the crowd to contact legislators to object to the government's policy, which she likened to kidnapping.

"What kind of people use children as bargaining chips to militarize the border?" she said. "No wall! No family separations! ... Never again!"

Morgan Tapley of Savoy and two other people watching the protest said they support ICE's work.

"It's really disrespectful to call them names. They're protecting us and enforcing the law," said Tapley, holding a sign reading, "I support ICE."

Later, the driver of a passing truck yelled, "Build a wall!"

Maldonado, who came to the U.S. legally in the 1990s and is now the Latino family liaison for Urbana schools, said she never wanted to get involved in immigration issues. But her conversations with those affected made her realize they all have the same hopes and dreams, and the government's aggressive immigration policies have prompted her to speak out.

"We are all in this together. I don't want to stay out anymore," she said.