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‘We have to raise our voices’: Oak Park residents write Congress in protest of family separations at

People gathered Monday at Addis Cafe in Oak Park to write letters for congressional leaders in the wake of the national controversy surrounding the separation of immigrant families at the U.S. border.

The event, organized by Oak Park resident Dima Ali, aimed to bring together those who oppose the Trump administration practice that led to the separation of immigrant children from their parents suspected of illegally immigrating to the United States.

“After I heard the horrible news, I couldn’t stay home,” Ali said. “I had to take action.”

Ali said the event could serve as a kickoff leading up to a rally planned for June 30 in Chicago. Some were making posters to be carried during the Chicago protest. Ali intends to participate in that event.

Ali said she feels fortunate to live in this county and said if people tried to protest in her native Iraq, they would go to jail.

“We have to raise our voices,” she said. “This is our right. The constitution has more than [the] right to keep and bear arms.”

About a week ago, Ali started organizing the event. She asked the owners of Addis Café to host the event.

“This hits close to home,” said Michael Kumela, who owns Addis Café. “We’re glad to help.”

Kumela and his wife, Kalki Tesfaye, are from Ethiopia. They entered the country as immigrants in the early 1990s and late 1980s, respectively.

“It wasn’t this bad [when we entered the country,]” he said. “We were welcomed. The situation wasn’t as bad coming over as a teen. It was difficult. You had to get used to the culture. The language was learned in school. There was a culture shock. Take into account [what’s happening to children today], and it hits home.”

Ali took to social media to get the word out. She distributed flyers. Ali said when she learned of President Donald Trump’s signing of an executive order that ended the practice of separating families, she was not satisfied and decided to go on with the event.

“I had to read it carefully,” she said. “After I read it, I thought, ‘What about the kids who are detained?’ That made me livid. It’s not solving any problem. I wanted to go to the border to fix it. Babies are still away from their parents. I don’t’ see any change. I wasn’t going to cancel.”

Forest Park resident Karin Evans said she was motivated to come out to the event.

“I’m tired of sitting at home and doing my resistance,” she said. “My friend texted me and said you should come.”

Evans sat at table next to Wendy Chancellor, who was writing letters for members of Congress. She hopes to deliver a message to lawmakers to craft better immigration legislation.

Margaret Milinovich, 7, of Oak Park, said she is glad she joined her mother, Leila Massouh, at the event. She said she came out “because I saw something on my dad’s phone, and it made me sad. There were children separated from their families, and they cried.”

Massouh said it feels horrible knowing that families are separated.

“It’s a hard conversation to have,” she said. “[Milinovich] is only seven years old. I stressed that there’s people trying to help and that it wasn’t what most Americans want.”

Massouh said she is a first-generation American.

“You always hope these [events] make a difference, but you don’t know,” she said. “You can only hope people in the office change their mind.”

Ali said the gathering was more than just another card-making event.

“This is an issue of decency,” she said. “This isn’t about Trump anymore. I’m doing this for the people of Oak Park that care.”