Evanston religious community moves to create ‘protection teams’ after presidential election


Jeffrey Wang/Daily Senior Staffer

St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 1004 Greenwood St. The Rev. Betty Landis of that church is one of a number of religious leaders organizing a response to the election of President Donald Trump.

David Fishman, Assistant City Editor

Members of the Evanston religious community are moving to establish so-called “protection teams” to support marginalized residents — including immigrants and refugees — following the election of President Donald Trump.

Last week, members from Interfaith Action of Evanston gathered about 125 people to organize a response to “hateful and vitriolic” rhetoric that came out of the election, said the Rev. Betty Landis of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.

“We are going to be doing this work so that we are responding to any kind of hatred or oppression or violence,” Landis said. “Our focus will be primarily … making sure Evanston folks know that there are neighbors willing to be there and to stand in solidarity.”

She said the initiative has three parts: creating “protection teams” to serve marginalized communities, fostering conversation to understand all points of view and marshalling resources to organize solidarity events.

As of yet, however, the project is still in flux and lacks a fully defined mission statement. Landis said the initiative’s mission and message would be solidified at a leaders meeting next week.

At the Feb. 7 meeting, representatives from the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights came to train members in immigration rights after reports of recent deportations, Landis said.

Last week, federal immigration officials arrested more than 600 people across 11 states including Illinois, according to the New York Times. The Obama administration was also active in deporting unauthorized immigrants, arresting more than 2,000 “convicted criminals” nationwide in one week.

The arrests follow an executive order — stalled in court — that tried to bar entry by citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries. In a tweet last week following a decision to block the order, Trump said, “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!”

He elaborated Monday in a press conference: “We are going to get the bad ones. The really bad ones, we’re getting them out and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” he said.

Landis said the team aims to work peacefully within the law, but wouldn’t rule out the possibility of civil disobedience. With an ever-changing political landscape, she said, the group would remain flexible and adapt to future legislation. Landis added that a “legal task force” would be formed to advise the group.

Various responses to the new president have cropped up across Evanston. Last month, a new task force created by city officials in December met for the second time to explore options for assisting refugees in their resettlement.

In December, City Council unanimously passed a “welcoming city” ordinance that prohibits city officials from inquiring about someone’s immigration status. And in January, both of Evanston’s school districts declared themselves a “safe haven” for families affected by any changes in immigration policy.

“Many residents are really worried about (the immigrant and refugee) population in our town,” 1st Ward resident Alisa Kaplan said. “We just don’t like idea of ICE agents coming and dragging people out of homes. … We want to be prepared, and we want to have the tools to constructively help.”

Kaplan created an Evanston chapter of Action for a Better Tomorrow, described as a “network of Illinois residents determined to make a difference.” The chapter’s Facebook group has more than 1,000 members who engage in political discussion and organize meetings with local legislators.

Ed Yohnka, director of communications and public policy at the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said he has seen similar movements across the state as the new administration ratchets up efforts to deport unauthorized immigrants. He said as these “standardless” deportations continue, Evanston should not count itself immune.

“I take the president at his word; he’s going to try to deport millions of people,” Yohnka said. “There’s no doubt that there’s an opportunity here for people to participate and be strong allies.”

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