Jewish students, local activists discuss immigration policies


Colin Boyle/Daily Senior Staffer

Rabbi Andrea London. London and students from Beth Emet Synagogue hosted an event Sunday to discuss immigration and efforts to address the issue in Evanston.

Billy Kobin, Reporter

Local students, clergy and activists gathered Sunday afternoon at an Evanston synagogue to discuss stories of immigration and ways to address the issue in the local community.

About 50 people gathered outside Beth Emet Synagogue, 1224 Dempster St., to hear from speakers about ongoing immigration issues and policies in Evanston that aim to protect immigrants.

Students from Beth Emet discussed a recent spring break trip to the U.S.-Mexico border and how the trip impacted them. Rabbi Andrea London said she joined a group of 15 high school students from Beth Emet on the trip to El Paso, Texas, where they stayed at Cristo Rey Lutheran Church.

London said the church takes in and supports refugees and people without documentation. During the trip, students slept at the church, where they shared meals and stories with immigrants.

“Every time we listened to those stories, our students listened with that kind of respect and love, that we are walking on the holy ground of people’s experiences,” London said. “We know all too well in our Jewish tradition about our own history of not always being received in our home countries … with dignity and respect.”

Several students spoke during the event about the trip and their visit to a U.S. District Court in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The students attended sentencing hearings at the court and heard from immigrants who had been detained by border patrol agents. They also spoke with lawyers and border patrol agents.

Antonio Gutierrez, an immigrant rights advocate and community organizer, spoke about his experiences as an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. Gutierrez said Evanston’s “welcoming city” ordinance is important but not perfect, pointing to exceptions that do not protect undocumented immigrants who are part of a local gang database.

“There is uncertainty about how individuals are put into this gang database to begin with and how reliable that information is,” Gutierrez said. “What we do know and understand is that information is being referred to immigration (authorities) and puts individuals at risk of deportation and separation from our communities.”

During the event, Illinois Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) updated the crowd on the Illinois Trust Act. The bill, which passed the Illinois Senate earlier this month, would prevent state law enforcement agencies from assisting federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents without a warrant. It would also create protected areas for immigrants in schools, hospitals and courthouses, Gabel said.

Gabel, who supports the bill, said it will likely be voted out of committee this week — setting up a potential vote in the Illinois House later this month. Gabel encouraged the crowd to contact legislators and work with other organizations that support immigrant rights.

At the event, an Evanston Township High School student shared her experiences as a member of the school’s DREAMers Club. She said the club advocates for students without documentation and their families.

The club has helped make ETHS a more welcoming place for undocumented students, the student said. She added the school board contributed to this welcoming atmosphere by voting in January to declare ETHS a “safe haven,” which means the school will not investigate a student or family member’s immigration status unless required by a court order.

“An immigration status doesn’t say anything about you as a person, and it doesn’t change who you are,” the student said. “It’s important not to reduce a human being to a label.”

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