By Odette Yousef, WBEZ
After dramatic protests at airports across the nation, several Chicago-area faith groups spent Sunday strategizing and mobilizing against a move that attempts to restrict entry of refugees and some Muslims to the U.S.
“This flies in the face of our American values, and more profoundly for us in this room, our deepest Christian values,” said Pastor Kevin McLemore from the lectern at the Epiphany United Church of Christ in Chicago’s North Center neighborhood. For weeks, this congregation has been awaiting the arrival of a Syrian family that it is sponsoring in partnership with RefugeeOne, a refugee resettlement agency in Chicago.
The family was due to arrive last week but was rescheduled to fly to Chicago in early February. Then President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning Syrian refugees from entry to the U.S. A federal judge issued a stay on the order late Saturday.
“So what this means for us in the coming weeks is still without clarity, frankly, OK?” said McLemore. “Though with last night’s stay on President Trump’s Friday order there’s still some hope here.”
The congregation has raised money for the family of four, furnished an apartment in Skokie, dressed the beds and stocked the pantry. McLemore said they felt it was important to sponsor a Muslim Syrian family’s resettlement to counter what they felt was mounting rhetoric against that population during the presidential campaign season. But excitement has now turned to fear that the family may not be allowed into the U.S. at all.
After the service, McLemore invited parishioners to a meeting for further discussion.
“I just want to allow us a little bit of space to talk about what we’ve been thinking, what we’ve been experiencing, what we’re feeling right now,” he told them. Discussion quickly turned toward strategies that could support or raise awareness about refugees and show solidarity with Muslim Americans.
Still, the discussion betrayed how unfamiliar this terrain is for this congregation.
“I feel like it would be so helpful if there were some spokespeople from the Muslim side,” said parishioner Desiree Winkle. “And there are so few.”
“Maybe part of the work we need to do is to start crossing the boundaries and showing our solidarity,” said McLemore, proposing that the church could establish an interfaith connection with a mosque.
Other groups were more readily able to assemble interfaith gatherings quickly, and to issue marching orders on next steps.
At the Muslim Education Center in Morton Grove, organizers from the Muslim Community Center, Jewish Voices for Peace, Asian Americans Advancing Justice and several other faith and community groups drew an estimated 700 attendees to its action event on Sunday. The goal was to lay out how attendees will push northwest suburban communities to action.
Dilnaz Waraich, of the Muslim Community Center, told the packed room to focus on urging mayors or village presidents of Morton Grove, Skokie, Niles and Lincolnwood to adopt “sanctuary city” policies. Sanctuary cities limit local cooperation with federal immigration agencies. Waraich also told the crowd to call and email Gov. Bruce Rauner to tell him to declare Illinois a “sanctuary state.”
The mass then took their message outside in a 1.5-mile march, holding up signs and singing chants. Dr. Mohammed Kaiseruddin, former chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, marched with them. He said this interfaith solidarity was important to Muslims in the Chicago area after the September 11th terrorist attacks.
“The solidarity at this time is much more intense than it was at 9/11,” said Kaiseruddin. “I think that it has to do also with the election that recently happened. And the country is divided. And that’s why people are very excited and they want to say that yes, anything going wrong, we’ll stand up together and say that this is wrong. This is very intense.”