Bradley and Cecilia Stephens, co-founders of the Chicago-based campaign for NorthSide Christian Church to be recognized as a sanctuary, where immigrants fleeing violence in Central America can temporarily remain in the US.
Key questions and answers about one of the greatest immigration debates in recent memory
By Sameerah Ayoub
With thousands of people rallying on a weekday evening in June, it was obvious that an important change was needed in the laws surrounding whether undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay in the US.
What prompted the change? Like a bad breakup, the terms of the rift have been chronicled in each of the parties’ own words. “It just feels that this has been an American issue, even though our government has decided to ignore this and make it something that we as people of color are forced to care about,” said Angela Davis, a professor at Michigan State University and a critic of the Trump administration.
But though there are similarities between the two splits, the Charlottesville riots and the Trump administration have also been reflected in the current case of Kim Potter, who is accused of illegally entering the US, though she’s been living here for years.
Similar concerns have driven the movements supporting sanctuary cities, such as the Milwaukee faith community known as the Milwaukee Movement for Liberation (MML), and those like the Milwaukee County Organizing for Action, a coalition of community and labour organizations that has provided sanctuary spaces to migrants.
Unlike one of these leaders, who came to the US as a child, Kim Potter left her home in Managua, Nicaragua, at the age of six.
When Potter found out in 2008 that she was undocumented, she was taken to a detention center in Atlanta where she was detained and deported to El Salvador. The former car service driver returned to America, and though she’s been here for 12 years, the law prevents her from being granted a driver’s license.
“The heartbreak for her is the heartbreak of not being able to work in good times or in times when we can benefit from her hard work,” said Melissa Johnson, Kim’s US-born sister who has stepped in to help support her.
The Trump administration considers Potter a criminal and a security risk. The Justice Department filed a complaint against Potter, accusing her of being undocumented and saying she isn’t qualified to get an in-state tuition rate at Chicago State University, which is set to start this fall.
Potter’s lawyer is hoping that the university will adjust her tuition because she has waited on a Chicago Sun-Times story detailing her efforts as an undocumented immigrant so that she can properly attend school. This is the only way Potter, who has no criminal history, can get the tuition. And the university has so far refused to make the adjustment.
Potter can work legally, so she’s planning to start a job as soon as she can, her sister said. She works at a small hospital in Chicago.
“Because of her not having documentation, she still faces deportation, so she is working hard to earn an education, to become something important for her community,” Johnson said.
Charlottesville tragedy’s impact
As the NorthSide Christian Church fights to change its ordinance, America is trying to recover from the events of Charlottesville, which happened just a few miles away from the church.
A white supremacist, James Fields Jr., drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old woman who was supporting immigrants and a women’s march in the city.
The rally was called to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
On Friday, NorthSide’s members joined an estimated 1,000 demonstrators to march on city hall in support of the church’s sanctuary status. The demonstrators marched through residential streets at a moderate pace, chanting “we ain’t afraid of hate,” and “get out of our sanctuary church.”
American religious leaders also spoke about hate groups and segregation in their remarks, saying that people should not experience discriminatory treatment because of their religious beliefs.
But protestors, who gathered on the sidewalk outside the church, were not as supportive. Marchers sat in, their heads bowed and arms crossed. A young woman, who identified herself as a Trump supporter, handed out T-shirts she had printed with the president’s face, and shouted: “This is a war against immigrants.”