DeKALB – Ahead of Sunday’s planned raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, demonstrators took to Memorial Park in DeKalb to show support for immigrants and refugees. Friday’s rally and candlelight vigil was staged as part of a series of similar ‘Lights for Liberty’ events across the country.
Organizers wanted to make sure the program was kid-friendly, and it included live musical performances and arts activities.
The Rev. Joe Gastiger, one of the featured speakers, is no stranger to activism in the community. He’s been involved in supporting civil rights, equal rights, the anti-war movement and more.
“I’m with the United Church of Christ, and it has a long tradition of supporting people who are persecuted,” he said.
First Congregational United Church of Christ and other houses of worship played a part in movements against slavery, child labor, the forced relocation of Native Americans and more, Gastiger said.
Gastiger said there’s a reason people are more engaged when it comes to speaking out against the inhuman and intolerable treatment of immigrants and refugees in today’s world than in years past.
“The threat of raids and images of children in cages has outraged people more than seeing words on a page,” he said. “It has a visceral effect on people.”
DeKalb resident Pablo Valencio said he felt compelled to take part in the rally and vigil.
“I am an undocumented student, and I have family who are undocumented,” he said.
People carried signs with sayings such as “Proud Descendant of Immigrants,” “Stop Separating Families” and “Stop U.S. Concentration Camps Now.”
Valencio took to the streets of DeKalb helping to hoist a sign himself in support for immigrants and refugees.
Valencio said that dealing with the realities of the immigration crisis is difficult.
“It’s an anxiety and a dark cloud,” he said. “As much as you try to get away, it follows you. My family has been here for 20 years. It’s a fear and an anxiety you can’t escape, but you have to keep going. The world doesn’t stop for anyone.”
While the event drew some passersby to honk their horns in for the cause, it was not all a show of support. Some counterprotesters made their presence known as well, such as a man shouting from a passing car, “Go Trump! Build a wall!”
DeKalb resident Ariana Pedraza decorated a crown with an image merging the U.S. and Mexican flags during the vigil. She said she feels for people who are affected by the immigration controversy.
“Some of them are worried about being away from a place they know – a place they call home,” Pedraza said.
Capping off the rally, demonstrators took part in a candlelight vigil.
“Honestly, it makes me happy,” Pedraza said of the show of solidarity. “I didn’t think people would show support.”