Seeking asylum is a human right
Springfield, Ill.—Springfield Dominican sisters and associates, co-workers and antiracism team members were among the diverse crowd braving dangerously hot temperatures in the capitol city on Saturday to participate in the Families Belong Together rally here on Saturday June 30.
An estimated crowd of 300 gathered on the historic Old State Capitol Plaza, in front of the Illinois Statehouse where Abraham Lincoln orated his “House Divided” speech, nearly 160 years to the day.
Participants representing Sierra Club and the local LGBTQ community stood side-by-side with grandparents, an immigrant family from Sudan, young activists, and college students, to create space for a narrative of the American Dream much different than the nightmare playing out at the U.S. southern border.
Among the speakers were Springfield Dominican associate Veronica Espina, Sacred Heart-Griffin English teacher Valeria Cueto, and Sister Beth Murphy, the communications director for the Springfield Dominicans.
Valeria, who along with Veronica is a member of the Springfield Dominican Antiracism Team (SDART), was joined on the stage by her 18-month-old daughter Elena, whose cries put a fine point on her mother’s speech. “There is nothing more comforting to a child during times of distress than the arms of his parents,” Valeria told the crowd. “There is nothing more motivating to a parent than the need of his or her child. This administration’s zero tolerance policy was counting on that.”
Valeria said that she’s been asked why someone in central Illinois should care what is happening at the border so far away. “My response is simple,” she said. “It’s not far away. Every time you see a tender exchange between a child and its parents this crisis is in front of you. Every time I feel the weight of my daughter’s body in my arms I am reminded of the burden of a mother crying out for her stolen child, the child she risked everything to save.”
“Seeking asylum is not a crime it is a human right,” she added, asking participants to call their representatives and senators. “Call them every day. Call them until all of the children who have been taken from their parents are reunited.”
Veronica Espina, Co-coordinator of the Springfield Immigrant Advocacy Network called the event an act of support, solidarity, and education. She hopes that the energy generated on Saturday might help reignite the impetus to name Springfield a Welcoming City. “We are trying to, in solidarity, show support at what is happening at the border.” She said. “We also want to educate our city and say, ‘You know what’s happening at the border is cruel and inhumane,’ but we also have immigrants here, let’s take care of our immigrants here as well.” A resolution brought before the Springfield City Council last fall failed. SIAN and other groups have been building grassroots support for the measure they hope to reintroduce in the coming months. Supporters may sign a petition in favor of the Welcoming City resolution. While the purpose of the rally was to draw attention to the failures of an immoral immigration policy at the border and to assure the president and Congress that current policies do not represent the desires of most U.S. Citizens, Sister Beth also addressed a recent Supreme Court decision on the Trump v. Hawaii travel ban case. “My heart is with the families in the United States of Somali and Iranian and Yemeni and Syrian origin who may, because of the president’s travel ban, be permanently separated from their families who are in Muslim countries that the president is trying to ban from the United States,” she said. “We will stand with the Muslim community in Springfield and around the nation and with all who are subjected to deeply troubling discriminatory policies of this administration.”
Among the speakers was retired U.S. Attorney Jim Lewis, a veteran of the Civil Rights movement, who said, when he asked a mentor how the tensions over voting rights in the 1960s would end was told “We don’t know how it ends, but we have to keep pushing!” Lewis told the Springfield crowd “People are pushing against us. If we stop pushing, they win. Make sure to push! If you want American to be proud of its heart, and its mind, and its soul, keep pushing!”