Last Saturday morning, hundreds of protesters could be seen gathering along the sidewalk in front of the Drury Inn across from the Goodwill on the northside of Champaign. Like many individuals and organizations around the country, protesters said that they are appalled by the cruel separation of families at the border. At the same time, they want to highlight how ICE is breaking up families in C-U and how the Drury Inn is aiding ICE agents by allowing them to stay overnight, often for several days at a time, as agents carry out raids and separate families in our communities.

"The hotel is effectively being used to facilitate deportations. We rally in solidarity with the families living in constant fear from being stopped by ICE," said Brian Dolinar of the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center, the group that organized the rally.

ICE has targeted our community on more than 30 separate days. ICE agents come from St. Louis to arrest people and ship them to the Pulaski County jail in far southern Illinois, 220 miles away from their families. Most recently, a father of four was arrested by ICE agents and is currently facing deportation proceedings, which was reported by journalists of the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center. 

The honking of car horns could be heard in support of the ralliers and their message as they marched along prospect street, many more people joining them in the line. Ralliers gathered back to the Drury Inn hotel to hear from people who were a part of the immigrant rights movement since the 1980s in Champaign-Urbana, including Father Tom Royer, who had served for 5 decades as priest at Saint Mary’s Catholic Church in Champaign; and Dr. Francis Boyle, professor of international law at the University of Illinois College of Law. Boyle highlighted how what ICE agents are carrying out on the border and in the community by separating families and detaining families constitutes a Nuremberg crime against humanity today. Here’s an excerpt from his speech below:

Ben Ferencz is now 99 years old; and just the other day, Ben put out a statement saying, what Trump is doing here constitutes a Nuremberg crime against humanity. This is a Nuremberg crime against humanity that is going on here. The Drury Inn is aiding and abetting a Nuremberg crime against humanity by putting ICE agents up here to commit crimes against humanity. You know at Nuremberg they also prosecuted aiders and abetters of Nuremberg crimes. So here today, I am calling for a boycott of Drury Inn. I’m asking in order to stop this crime against humanity that is going on; we have to shut down Drury. No business by anyone. No people of good faith and good will in this community must do business with Drury, as long as they are helping and abetting ICE crimes against humanity.

Other speakers included Ben Mueller, president of the C-U Friends Assisting Immigrants and Refugees (CUFAIR), an organization that has been providing refugee resettlement aid in the area over the past several years, and Ashli Anda, an immigrant rights leader and graduate student in Philosophy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The megaphone was then handed to Anda, who recently moved to Champaign-Urbana from Los Angeles. Her truncated speech given at the rally may be read here below:

You may have heard people say lately, ‘I don’t know what our country is becoming.’ If you have been paying attention, you know that our country has been this way already. We’ve already had mass incarceration. We’ve already had violations of human dignity. We’ve already had children being torn away from their families. It’s just that now, as a mass population, paying attention. So, I think we have a distinct advantage as a small community to seek the standard for what a welcoming city looks like. [Looks to crowd] This is what a welcoming city looks like. We demand safety regardless of citizenship. We must do everything in our power to stand up and loudly communicate that we want to abolish ICE. It’s not enough that we disagree with their methods and that we want them to change a bit. We want to abolish ICE.

I followed up with Anda after her speech at the rally. Although she said her words were kept brief for her speech, she has much more to say about the issue:

When I moved here I was kind of worried about what the community was going to be like. I’m a Latina woman and I wasn’t sure that moving to the rural midwest from Los Angeles was going to be a shock to me, if I was going to see people like me, or what my community was going to look like. It has been a pleasant surprise that there is a strong Latinx community here. This issue is happening here at home not just at the border. People in our community need to pay attention to it so that we can demand that our community actually welcome people and defend human rights.

To get involved, the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center says that there are organizations that you can join locally to make a difference in our community. Although immigration is a federal issue, the work of fighting for human rights and fostering inclusion is local work, the work of communities some ralliers added. Father Tom Royer also added on how people could get engaged and stay engaged, “People should become better informed. If you can volunteer with immigrant aid organizations, that is a good way to learn about the issues through service. It introduces you to the work and keeps you connected with those involved,” said Father Tom Royer. “Also, once you become involved in any movement for justice and human rights, you will become involved in others. Right now, the people are called to fight for immigrant rights too."

Photos by Megan Flowers