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Immigration Rally in Kalamazoo Calls for Reuniting Families, Non-Cooperation with ICE

This story has been updated to reflect that Jen Strebs is a member of Kalamazoo progressive organization ProKzoo and that Kalamazoo County has cancelled its Commission meeting for July 3.

With temperatures in the 90s and the sun blazing, hundreds of people gathered in Kalamazoo's Bronson Park on Saturday to call for changes to U.S. immigration laws and policy. 

The "Families Belong Together" rally focused on the Trump administration's recent practice of separating immigrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico Border. But some demonstrators carried signs calling for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be not just abolished, but "prosecuted." 

Jen Strebs, a Kalamazoo Township trustee and a member of Kalamazoo progressive group ProKzoo, which helped to organize the rally, called for Kalamazoo County Sheriff Rick Fuller to pledge non-cooperation with ICE. She urged the crowd to turn out for a Kalamazoo County Commission meeting this Tuesday, where a resolution on border separations is on the agenda. UPDATE: The County Commission has cancelled its July 3 meeting due to a train derailment in downtown Kalamazoo.

Strebs opened the event by noting that the land that is now Bronson Park was taken from the Pottawatomi. "No one is illegal on stolen land," read one sign. 

Other posters addressed the theme of family separations: "Kidnapping is illegal," "Children should not be pawns" and "Twinkle, twinkle, little star, are they sleeping near or far?" While Trump has signed an order ending the policy, thousands of children have not been returned to their parents.

When asked what brought him to the rally, Kalamazoo Public Schools teacher Alfredo Aleman spoke of his elementary school students, many of whom he says are immigrants. But he also spoke about his parents.

"My dad was an undocumented worker. So was my mom, right after World War II. He was thrown back across to Mexico with my mom as well. My mom almost drowned in the Rio Grande River and she tells me these stories as we're watching the current events unfold on television," he said.

"It's very heart-wrenching for her as well as well as myself because I see the emotions that arise in her and I can't imagine that here we are, revisiting this again in 2018," he added.

Aleman said he hoped that people from all political parties would recognize that "children are children."

A Kalamazoo woman named Jen who was staffing the cool-down tent echoed that hope. Jen did not give her last name because, she said, she might have issues with her employer. 

"I'm a mom. I have kids, I cannot imagine not knowing where they are or if they're okay, and not knowing if I'll ever see them again. So for me, it's very simple," she said.

At the end of the rally, a woman waved to demonstrators from a window at First Congregational Church: Saheeda Nadeem, a Pakistani woman who faces a deportation order for overstaying her visa. Nadeem raised her children in Kalamazoo and one of them is buried here. She has been living at the church since March in the hopes of avoiding removal.

Sehvilla Mann joined WMUK’s news team in January 2014 as a reporter on the local government and education beats. Before that she covered a variety of topics, including environmental issues, for Bloomington, Indiana NPR and PBS affiliates WFIU and WTIU. She’s also written and produced stories for the Pacifica Network and WYSO Public Radio in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Sehvilla holds a B.A. in French from Earlham College and an M.A. in journalism from Indiana University.
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